“Register: Its’s what a man’s got to do. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s the law.”
The U.S. government provides many forms of assistance to citizens and provides many jobs to citizens as well. These are privileges for legally abiding citizens of the United States but for men, they must earn their access to certain privileges. Specific federal and state programs, assistance, and jobs are only available to men once they’ve registered for the Selective Services sometime between 18 to 26 years old.
Many men don’t realize but it is legally required for boys to register with the Selective Services within 30 days of turning 18. In practice, there seems to be somewhat of a grace period until a man turns 26 years old. At 26, a man’s registration status is final. For those who fail to register, some of the repercussions can follow him for life.
If a man turns 26 and hasn’t registered, they have technically committed a felony and could receive a fine up to $250,000 and/or up to five years of prison time. Fortunately, of the many men who commit this felony each year, no man has been prosecuted since the 80’s (Nelson, 2016).
More problematic, however, is their exclusion from certain government programs and financial assistance, a privilege provided to most citizens. As the Selective Services System website ominously states: “The more immediate penalty is if a man fails to register before turning 26 years old, even if he is not tried or prosecuted, he may find that some doors are permanently closed.”
According to the 2016 Selective Service System Annual Report, at least 169,939 men turned 26 years old in 2016 without registering for Selective Services. These thousands of men will have their names and addresses sent to the Department of Justice and lose access to certain citizen privileges for the rest of their lives.
Certain federal and state programs, jobs, and assistance will not be available to males 18 and older until proof of registration. This includes most federal and state employment opportunities as well as student financial aid and loans. Also included is job training under the Work Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). WIOA helps unemployed citizens learn basic skills and find a job. So, unregistered men over 26 can find it very difficult to go back to university due to lack of financial assistance and are turned away when they look towards WIOA for skills building and job matching.
State universities can further restrict access to unregistered men as well. Louisiana, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Ohio require proof of Selective Service registration to receive in-state tuition privileges or even gain acceptance to university at all. This leads to hundreds of thousands of unregistered men, 26 and older, who can run into major eligibility issues and financial barriers if they try to go back to school. These barriers can be too difficult to overcome for men working paycheck to paycheck.
Even most state drivers licenses are not available for an 18-26-year-old male unless they register for Selective Services. All of these laws were meant to boost registration rates and have worked very well. However, the laws can also become very problematic for men who need proof of registration but have missed their opportunity to register.
Many may see Selective Service registration as a simple 15 minutes chore however it’s a forced contract of compensated labor with no specified service dates. Even men who disagree with Selective Services must register to receive standard civilian privileges. Furthermore, the 169,939 men who turned 26 in 2016 and the men who lost their chance years earlier will find themselves with fewer options and less government assistance than many of their fellow citizens.
Whether the experience is a 15-minute chore or a lifelong struggle to deal with lost privileges, it remains important to acknowledge Selective Services registration as part of the male experience in the United States.
Annual Report to the Congress of the United States from the Director of the Selective Service System. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.sss.gov/Portals/0/PDFs/Annual%20Report%202016%20-%20Web.pdf.
Nelson, Steven. (May 3, 2016). Gender-Neutral Draft Registration Would Create Millions of Female Felons. U.S. News. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-05-03/gender-neutral-draft-registration-would-create-millions-of-female-felons.
Selective Service System website. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.sss.gov.