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The Dwindling Rate of Veterans in Congress

Friday, September 6th, 2013

As lawmakers debate military intervention in Syria, it’s important to consider their professional background. Drew DeSilver of the Pew Research Center compiled the rates of veterans in Congress over the years, and the results may surprise you.

The number of veterans serving in Congress is at an all-time low, according to DeSilver, with just 20 senators and 89 representatives having served in the armed forces. Those figures equate to just over 20% of Congress, a far cry from the rate just a few decades ago. DeSilver notes that during the 95th Congress from 1977-1978, a combined 77% of House and Senate members served in the armed forces. DeSilver suggests that the culture of congressional service was much different 35 years ago, when “military service was practically a requirement for serving in Congress.”

The decline in congressional veterans parallels the wider trend in the US, with veterans making up just 7% of the total population, just over half the 1970 level. DeSilver notes that the prolonged engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan have been fought by a relatively small military force, contributing to a growing divide between the military and civilians.

For another perspective on the military-civilian disconnect, check out Cheryl Miller’s “Underserved: A Case Study of ROTC in New York City,” a report published through the Program on American Citizenship.