The Army can be an important institution for improving income mobility in America.
A new study from researchers at Brigham Young University, West Point, and the U.S. Treasury suggests that Army service can help close the Black-White earnings gap.
The research, published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, found that American men and women who voluntarily enlist in the Army and are admitted see an average increase of $4,000 in annual earnings in the years following their application when compared to applicants who were not admitted.
For Black service members, however, long-term earnings are even more pronounced. African-American service members experience annual gains of $5,500 to $15,000 in the 11 to 19 years following their admittance versus those who were denied admission.
“What we’re seeing is that by offering a stable and well-paying Army job and by opening doors to healthcare and education and higher paying jobs post-service, the Army is reducing the Black-White earnings gap,” said Richard Patterson, BYU professor of economics and co-author of the study. “In a society where there are significant differences in opportunity by race, the Army offers at least one path to overcome these differences.”
The researchers linked federal tax records of more than 1.7 million Army applicants with their Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT) scores to study the effects of Army admittance on long-term earnings. The AFQT tests an applicant’s knowledge of topics such as math, English, and word comprehension. Applicants generally must score 31 or better to be admitted and score 50 to receive an enlistment bonus. Those who enlist because they got a 31 or 50 earn more than $5,000 extra each compared to those who pursued a career elsewhere because they scored a 30 or 49.
The researchers note that such findings aren’t meant to suggest that Army admission is a “one size fits all” solution. After all, military service involves considerable risk and isn’t an option for everyone. Rather, researchers see the Army as one opportunity to act as a catalyst of upward mobility for under-represented groups. They encourage other organizations to learn from its practices.
“The pieces of Army service that are beneficial could be replicable in other settings. Offering access to quality healthcare, higher education, and helping people start a career in a good paying job are all things that are worth exploring,” said Patterson. “A combination of these attributes is something that people value.”