Today saw a raft of stories about the perilous decline in black military recruits (go here for a list of such stories).
The basic take? This Wash Post piece is representative. Headlined "Steady Drop in Black Army Recruits: Data Said to Reflect Views on Iraq War," it notes that blacks now make up less than 14 percent of recruits, down from 23.5 percent in 2000.
Let's leave aside for the moment whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. After all, blacks made up about 12 percent of the US population in the 2000 Census and there's a perennial argument that their historic overrepresentation in the all-volunteer military meant such a system was worse for them than a draft. It may simply be expected that over time, any given ethnic group's representation in the military will approach its proportion in the population at large. Who knows?
But there's a couple of elements of crap journalism in the general spin of this story. The Post also notes:
Hispanics have increased from 10.4 percent of new recruits in 2000 to 13 percent in 2004; whites went from 61 percent in 2000 to 65 percent in 2004; and Asians or Pacific Islanders made up less than 1 percent of new soldiers in 2000 but nearly 5 percent in 2004.
So the story might have been headlined something like: "Asians and Pacific Islanders Bursting with Patriotism, Increase Number of Recruits 5X." Or something touting the increases, in percentage terms, of white and Hispanic recruits.
More important, neither the Post story, nor any of the others I skimmed, actually gave raw numbers of recruits. Instead, all we get are relative percentages. Which is fine, but also woefully incomplete.
How many total recruits were there in 2004 vs. 2000? I mean, if the number of total recruits doubled in those four years, it would mean that, in absolute numbers, there were more black recruits in 2004 than 2000. Without those figures, there's no way of knowing. Have recruitments been flat? Or what? It shouldn't have taken a reporter very long to find out and report that along with the percentage shifts.