For the first time since 2010, troops will see a pay raise of more than 3.0 percent. And they may not have to wait another decade before the next one arrives.
For junior enlisted troops, the raise amounts to roughly $815 more a year in pay. For senior enlisted and junior officers, it equals about $1,500 more. An O-4 with 12 years service would see more than $2,800 extra next year under the increase.
The figure is based on the expected rise in civilian sector wages, so the extra money is designed not as a bonus for military families but instead as a calculation to keep them on pace with their private-sector peers.
Still, the 3.1 pay hike is a cause for celebration among troops because it represents more money than they are used to seeing, based on the last decade.
Several times in the mid-2010s, military and White House officials pushed for pay raises under the expected rise in private-sector salaries in order to save money for other military priorities, like equipment upkeep and modernization.
From 2011 to 2016, the military pay increase never grew above 1.7 percent. Outside advocates have argued that troops’ paychecks still lag behind the rest of American workers as a result of those downward adjustments.
But those smaller increases could be off the table for military planners, at least for the next few years.
The military pay calculation for 2021 has already been set at 3.0 percent. That figure will be the source of debate throughout the spring, when lawmakers discuss funding levels for the next fiscal year.
However, both congressional leaders and President Donald Trump have already voiced opposition to smaller pay increases, giving advocates confidence that the 2021 raise could match or exceed that 3.0 percent level. Several Democratic presidential hopefuls have also mentioned increasing military pay as a campaign priority.
The biggest obstacle facing that raise, however, will be partisan fighting. With impeachment proceedings in the Senate at the start of the year and the November presidential and congressional elections looming, lawmakers have already expressed concerns about how much legislative work they’ll be able to accomplish in coming months.
Typically the next fiscal year’s budget plan is released by the White House in February, debated through the spring and summer, and adopted in the fall. This year, if campaign demands and political stalemates delay the work, all of those normal timelines could slip, and completion of a new budget (and military pay raise) could be delayed until late December or early 2021.
And more expansive military pay issues — housing allowance adjustments, specialty pay issues, focused recruitment benefits — could also be squeezed out by the political pressures.
But those issues won’t hit military families until next year. For now, the modest pay raise they’ll see in their first paychecks of January should help pay off some of those 2019 holiday bills, maybe a little more than last year’s hike.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.