Saturday 27 February 2010
by: Carlton Meyer
One great myth in American society is that military personnel are
poorly paid. That was true until the 1980s, when a push to improve
recruit quality boosted military pay each year at twice the inflation
rate. The military was once known for low pay yet great retirement,
but now has great pay as well. This fact is hidden from the public
with absurd propaganda from military associations about the need to
boost pay, and fear in the Pentagon that if Congress catches on, the
days of big pay raises may end.
For example, inflation was flat last year and Social Security
recipients received no increase for 2010. However, military personnel
just got a 3.2 percent pay increase, while civilian wages fell 1.6
percent last year. Some Congress members worry the USA will go
bankrupt unless it cuts spending, so why the pay boost? First, it's a
form of vote buying. Second, federal civilian pay increases follow
military pay increases. Congressional staffers and everyone inside
the beltway benefit, so they profit from this deception.
Look at what the average 20-year-old American earns. The latest data
is from the third quarter of 2009, which shows Americans ages 16-24
on average earn $429 a week, or times 52 = $22,308 a year. The DoD
has a simple online pay calculator. The average age for a recruit is
19, so the typical pay for a 20-year-old sailor is E-2 = $37,637 a
year. If he has a wife and two kids, it's $41,021, nearly twice as
much as he could make in the private sector! This does not include
special pays and bonuses.
If someone joins the military rather than going to college, after
four years he will be at least an E-4, and, with a wife and two kids,
make $48,180 a year! This more than college graduates and at least
$14,000 more than the average salary of any other occupation in the
USA where most workers have decades of experience and seniority.
Finally, it is very rare to find subsidized childcare, free gyms and
tax-free shopping in the civilian world.
It is true that many military people work more than 40 hours a week,
yet so do many civilians. There are many service members who work
less than 40 hours a week, and some work less than 20 if you discount
the hours at "work" they spend surfing the web, exercising in the
gym, getting a haircut or playing softball. Military personnel
receive 30 days paid vacation, enjoy 12 paid federal holidays,
several extra days off as part of "long weekends," unlimited sick
leave, plus the common practice of going home soon after lunch on
Fridays. In contrast, American workers average just 13 paid days off,
and around 40 percent of Americans never get a paid day off and have
no benefits such as health care.
Yes, many servicemen endure stressful occupation duty in Iraq and
Afghanistan, which is why combat pay should be boosted. However, most
career service members rarely spend time in combat zones, and they
usually enjoy the adventure and the extra pay involved. Keep in mind
that Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard personnel are paid the same as
soldiers and marines, and if deployed into a combat zone, it is
normally very safe and comfortable duty aboard a ship or a large base.
Career enlisted men earn ultra-high pay. An E-7 with 20 years of
service with a wife and four kids earns a whopping $78,221 a year!
That's much more than Americans with advanced college degrees, like
an MBA. E-9s can make over $100,000 a year! Enlisted can retire after
just 20 years of service without contributing a cent toward their
generous retirement plan. If the US military advertised these facts,
recruiters would have lines outside their office.
Double Pay for Officers
Officer pay is ultra high as well. The DoD's online pay calculator<>
shows that a new officer starts at $54,800 a year. The Bureau of
Labor Statistics (BLS) collects data on pay for new college
graduates, broken down by occupation. Several types of engineers
start off at around $70,000, so pay for new officers seems
reasonable. The BLS provides the average pay data for all college
graduates, and its latest data is from the third quarter of 2009.
This shows the median pay for American workers with a bachelor degree
is $1,020 a week, times 52 = $53,040 a year. This shows that an
officer fresh out of college earns more than the average college
graduate with years of seniority and experience.
Let's say the average college graduate works between ages 23 and 63,
so a direct comparison for an average officer would be a 43-year-old
at 20 years of service who is an O-5 (lieutenant colonel or Navy
commander). With a wife and four kids, he earns a massive $136,000 a
year! That is more than twice as much as the comparable American
wage. The excuse is that officers have much more responsibly, but
that is questionable. Officers in charge of units have limited
authority, and since there is an officer for every five enlisted,
many do not command anyone. Many officers are students, co-pilots,
aides or desk clerks who rubber stamp paperwork. The US Army has
trouble keeping captains because of the endless deployments and a
perception of low pay, but it has no problem keeping mid-grade officers.
Some officers have advanced degrees, but most were paid to obtain
one. No company in the private sector pays employees to attend
college for two years to obtain a masters degree. Nevertheless, the
BLS data shows the median pay for American workers with advanced
degrees is $1,309 a week, times 52 = $68,068 a year. So, your average
mid-career military officer earns twice as much! How is this justified?
This explains why career officers love the military and fight to
remain in the force. Keep in mind that these DoD pay figures do not
included special pays and bonuses, which often adds thousands of
dollars a year. It was once common for military pilots to leave after
six years and join an airline. This is rare today since military
officers now earn far more than airline pilots.
Congress seems unaware because, a few years ago, officers in the
Pentagon produced a bogus study showing they were underpaid, so
Congress authorized a special pay boost for mid-ranking officers. It
seems they decided they are comparable to top lawyers at top law
firms, rather than the average pay for Americans with advanced
degrees. Also note that while most Americans have a retirement plan,
nearly all are matching plans where employees must contribute half
and the benefits are limited. People in the military never contribute
one cent and have defined benefits that are never depleted. Since
most retire at around 45 years of age, they earn retirement pay and
heavily subsidized medical care for decades more.
Don't Waste Time With College
High military pay explains support for the recent law that allows
servicemen to pass their VA college benefits along to their children.
Why should enlisted leave the service and struggle through college on
a small stipend only to graduate and earn less money? It is far
better to re-enlist, so that after another four years they are an E-6
with eight years and pocket $63,000 a year, some $10,000 more than
the average college graduate with decades of experience! Keep in mind
that going to college also results in the loss of over $200,000 in
pay during those four years.
High pay causes depression among disabled veterans. The VA pays an
adequate disability rate for them to live comfortably, but it is far
less than their generous active duty pay. Many are outraged when,
partially disabled from combat injuries, they are punished as doctors
say they cannot remain on active duty, so their income falls in half.
This has led to confusion as injured vets awarded a disability rating
attempt to re-enlist after discovering that private sector pay is
less than half as much. The Army recently drew the line at 50 percent
disability, meaning anyone with a disability rating of 50 percent or
more is not allowed to re-enlist.
Let's look at the pay disparity with an example of two brothers. One
graduates from a four-year college, followed by two years of graduate
school at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses and
lost wages. He worked for 12 years and now earns the national average
for his educational level of $68,068 annually. His brother joined the
military, never took a college class and didn't work hard, so he is
just an E-6 after 18 years in the military, yet he earns more than
his hard-working and highly educated brother who spent six unpaid
years and over $100,000 to toil through six years of college.
Drawbacks of High Military Pay
Over the past three decades, private sector pay remained flat, while
Congress routinely provided annual military pay raises higher than
the inflation rate. As a result, military personnel now earn twice as
much as comparable Americans. What wrong with that?
1) Every dollar spent on unneeded pay is a dollar that could have
been spent to develop or procure new items of equipment;
2) Less pay allows for more manpower. If troops were paid the same as
back in the Reagan years, our military could afford twice as many
troops. One solution to reduce deployment time is less pay and more manpower;
3) Meeting re-enlistment goals are no problem today, but that
increases stress as everyone must compete (and brown nose) to remain
in the career force. One mistake or upset officer may end their career;
4) As the nation faces bankruptcy, it is unpatriotic to demand larger
budgets to fund unnecessary pay raises.
The Pentagon reform is simple: freeze pay for a few years. Use some
of the savings for more combat pay and for deployment pay. Also,
Congress should scrutinize re-enlistment bonuses, which have become a
tradition even though most are unjustified. It is true that some
service members are overdeployed, but that is the result of poor
leadership by generals and admirals who use GIs as pawns in their
political games for larger budgets. There was never an urgent need
for more soldiers in Afghanistan. Navy admirals now brag that half
their ships are underway. Congress should ask why. Has the Soviet
fleet reappeared? Does al-Qaeda have a threatening Navy? Keeping the
OPTEMPO (operating/operations tempo) high burns up fuel, wears out
ships and sailors.
Meanwhile, private military organizations, which act like unions,
blatantly deceive Congress and the American people with greedy
demands for ever-higher pay. The Association of the US Army's current
legislative agenda includes its traditional demand to "eliminate the
pay gap." How can military officers, who claim to have high standards
of honor, patriotism and honesty, support that deception? Freezing
military pay will upset some military personnel, but only the selfish
ones. Yet, they should realize that national bankruptcy is a major
threat to their career and retirement plans. If the dollar collapses
and inflation hits 30 percent a year for several years, a newly
elected Congress of "teabaggers" may slash pay and retirement benefits in half.
Other service members consider themselves patriots, and agree that a
nation facing bankruptcy should not continue to grant them
unnecessary pay raises. While some may express outrage, they will
never leave their prosperous military career, even if their pay is
cut. Meanwhile, military recruiters and retention specialists can
distribute this article and await an avalanche of applications.