Have you ever heard… “Only 1 percent of Americans serve?”  We really aren’t the 1%.  It’s true, does this upset you?

It’s common enough of a “fact” that 47% of Veterans advocates answer the following question incorrectly when asked during Veterans cultural competency training.

This is a stubbornly persistent false factoid, it would seem for no other reason than how well it fits within a meme or catchphrase. It’s a reflection on our collective culture since the Occupy Wall Street movement that we tend to be obsessed with this idea of 1%-er of anything. And strive to apply the label and attach ambiguous meaning to it.

For example, while doing a bit of fact checking on this post, I came across these articles from different outlets. First a well written article from the New York Times helps give accurate, yet deceiving insight. Not because of it’s thesis, which is provocative and very true, but of how it examines and presents the data on service vs non-service.

“As fewer Americans Serve, Growing Gap Is Found Between Civilians and Military”

The NY Times article above parses the facts correctly. At any one time, less than one percent of the population is actively serving, yet it’s such a nuanced statement that most outlets or even folks who know Veterans, seem to misquote, misunderstand, or completely miss the point.

Here are examples, can you spot the errors in the titles or articles from the following publications?

Bangor Daily News: “Meet some of the 1 percent that serves in the military”
DailySignal.com: “Veterans are the real one percenters”

What’s the so-what…

A consultant might say at this point, “what’s the so-what?” We’re getting to that. Let’s cover some more population data that will help.

In reality, we have over 21 million American Veterans alive in 2015. Sadly this number is going down; the greatest contributor to this being an all to quickly aging population of World War II, Korea, & Vietnam War Veterans.

Still, with 21 million Veterans alive today, we’re looking at about 9% of all Americans over the age of eighteen (sorry, if you’re under eighteen we’re not counting you in this stat because…for the most part, you’re not quite military age…yet).  Rather than 1%-ers we are actually 10%-ers.

Add in direct family: spouses, children, etc, it’s likely that number is upwards of 30% of the American population has close ties to Veterans (close enough to qualify for many Veterans benefits) or they are a Veteran themselves.

Here’s the so-what…

One in three is vastly different than one in ten, and is in another world than one in one-hundred. When we think of supporting Veterans or Veterans families with a program, we’re not talking about a small, obscure, perhaps arcane population – we’re talking about 20-60 million working age Americans.

By marketing ourselves or allowing ourselves to be marketed as the 1% we as Veterans risk letting others view us and treat us as more niche than we actually are. Don’t settle for being the 1%. Don’t settle for 1% of employment assistance and education support. Don’t settle for 1% of policy and certainly don’t settle for being 1% of the conversation in any forum.

-Josh Penner

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