Fact Sheet: Militarism in the United States

March 2, 2020 - Download PDF Version

people by fence at US southern border

Militarism and violence are the hallmarks of U.S. policy at home and abroad. From war to mass incarceration and beyond, these policies amplify poverty, racism and environmental degradation. They can and must change.

Along with the Poor People's Campaign, we compiled national and state-by-state data about how militarized violence is institutionalized through policy in the United States, and how militarized spending priorities impact communities.

Fact sheets are available for all 50 states plus Washington, DC, in the drop-down menu, which you can find in the left sidebar of this page, or scroll down to the bottom of the page if viewing on a mobile device. You can also find these factsheets at the Poor People's Campaign website.

Data reflects research from February 2020.

Violence as Policy in the United States

Investment in a culture of war vs. a culture of care

  • Spending on detention, deportation and border patrol totaled $21.6 billion in 2018, more than six times as much as for federal homeless assistance programs ($3.5 billion).
  • The prison industry cost governments $179 billion a year, including paying for prison operators, courts and policing. Only $4.5 billion (2.5%) of that total is for indigent defense.
  • United States law enforcement agencies received 452,335 items worth $1 billion in surplus military equipment from the Department of Defense, such as rifles, armored vehicles, and military aircraft.
  • The U.S. ranks first in the world for military spending and has the fourth highest poverty rate.
  • The U.S. military budget, at $716 billion in 2018, was 30 times larger than the federal public school budget ($23.4 billion), 14 times larger than the federal housing budget ($48.2 billion), and 81 times larger than the Environmental Protection Agency budget ($8.8 billion).
  • The U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost $6.4 trillion. It would take a full-time minimum wage worker more than 7 million lifetimes to earn that much.
  • United States taxpayers will contribute $738 billion to the Pentagon and military in 2020. That money could have created 12.8 million infrastructure jobs, health care for 201 million adults, or full scholarships for every public 4-year college student in the nation. The United States awarded $342 billion in Pentagon contracts, but only $163 billion in education grants from the Department of Education.
  • We could save as much as $350 billion per year and achieve true security by ending wars, reducing our aggressive posture overseas, and reining in military contracts that drain public coffers for private gain. 

Lives at stake

Private profit

  • The top five Pentagon contractors paid their CEOs a combined $100 million. The average Pentagon contractor salary is close to $200,000, and entry level pay for a soldier is $20,172.
  • In a single year, the private prison industry drew $14 billion in public funds. That would be more than enough to restore Temporary Assistance to Needy Families to its pre-1996 funding level.
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) gave out $1.9 billion in contracts in 2018, more than the entire budget of the Meals on Wheels program that provides meal delivery to seniors.

Poverty, racism, and environmental degradation

  • Poor communities experience more wartime deaths compared to high-income communities.
  • Native and Indigenous people serve in the military at higher rates than other ethnicities.
  • Black boys and men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white boys or men, and are ten times more likely to be killed by gun violence than White men.
  • There were 2.29 million people incarcerated in United States in 2018, where Black people are incarcerated at 5.4 times the rate of White people.
  • Of 1,200 contaminated Superfund sites marked for environmental clean-up in the U.S., an estimated 900 were military facilities or military support sites.
  • The U.S. military spends an estimated $81 billion a year to protect the world’s oil supplies, more than twice what the U.S. has spent over the past 70 years on developing renewable energy technology.