Understanding the Pros and Cons of Mandatory or Compulsory Service in the United States

What does it mean to be a productive member of society, and how can the country help instill a national sense of pride, duty, and honor? The answers are vast, but for many people, they revolve around the idea of civil or national service. It is important to note that this does not only encompass military service. While the military is a part of national service, national park upkeep is also an integral part of serving the community and country.

Unfortunately, many people avoid signing up for civil and national service, which has sparked the debate of a mandatory term. Other countries require a commitment after completing high school, and these mandatory programs seem to instill a greater sense of citizenship and social responsibility. If such programs work for other countries, can’t they work for the U.S., and if they can, shouldn’t they be instituted? That depends on who you ask.

Pros of Mandatory National Service

While there are many potential pros to enacting a mandatory service program, most proponents agree on three benefits: community development, adult development, and fiscal savings. Through compulsory service programs, young people would be exposed to other social groups and communities within the country. The mandatory service and interaction would help to foster more robust and more diverse communities, further establishing the U.S. as a place of tolerance and acceptance.

Many proponents argue that the country currently lacks a good stepping stone from schooling to adult responsibility. By incorporating a mandatory service program, younger individuals would be forced to transition into more adult-oriented roles, providing the necessary groundwork for a successful life beyond school.

Finally, compulsory service is a way for the country to save money and ultimately give back to individual communities. In one cost-benefit analysis, the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies found that national youth service programs returned a value of $6.5 billion while only costing about $1.7 billion to manage; that equates to more than $3.9 billion in social benefits.

Cons of Mandatory National Service

As with the pros for compulsory service, there are many potential cons; however, most opponents agree on three: lack of need, constitutional violation, and possible service manipulation. Most opponents of mandatory service explain that there is no need for such action because volunteer services are thriving; nearly 28% of millennials have volunteered for community service — approximately 1.5 billion hours; 26% of Gen Z volunteered, and roughly half want a job in volunteer sectors.

The primary argument against mandatory service is found in the constitution, specifically under the 13th Amendment. The amendment dictates that involuntary servitude is only OK for the punishment of a crime and only when the defendant is found guilty through due process.

Finally, many opponents of compulsory service worry about the manipulation of the system. It is not a far stretch to see how wealthy individuals could manipulate the system in favor of their families, meaning low-income Americans are at risk of being unfairly treated.

Despite ongoing debates about compulsory service, the country is often evenly split between those for and against. Where do you stand? Is mandatory service a good idea, and why or why not? Leave a comment below explaining your opinion and help keep the conversation going.