One key to boosting military recruiting may be convincing the public — and troops themselves — that military pay is actually better than they think.

Officials from the Congressional Budget Office late last month released a new analysis of service member compensation, including basic pay, medical benefits and housing support. Their conclusion: “On average, enlisted personnel receive cash compensation that is higher than that received by about 90 percent of civilians of the same age and education.”

The findings came in response to questions from Senate Armed Services Committee members who earlier this summer asked whether annual military pay raises are enough to keep the armed forces competitive with civilian employers. Researchers said that current compensation for troops is above the Defense Department’s stated goal that cash compensation meet or exceed the 70th percentile of civilian earnings.

In addition, “service members receive a larger share of their overall compensation in the form of noncash and deferred benefits than do most people employed in the private sector,” the report stated. “And evidence suggests that many service members greatly underestimate the full value of those deferred benefits.”

Under current military pay scales, the most junior troops make about $21,000 in salary. Individuals with ranks E-4 and above and those who have served for at least three years can earn around $31,200 in basic pay, the equivalent of $15 an hour for a 40-hour work week.

But those totals only include take-home pay, and not other benefits like military health care, monthly housing stipends, future GI Bill benefits and other enlistment and reenlistment bonuses.

If troops received more take-home pay but had to cover the costs of those benefits, the researchers wrote, the arrangement “would give policymakers, service members, and — perhaps most importantly — potential recruits a more complete view of the amount of cash pay that military personnel can earn.”

But CBO officials are not recommending any drastic reordering of the military compensation systems. Instead, they said, better education about the full range of military pay and benefits could help recruiting and retention efforts.

The report comes as lawmakers in both chambers are working to finalize their federal budget plans for fiscal 2024, which include a 5.2% pay raise in January for all service members, the biggest annual boost since 2002.

House Republicans, meanwhile, have also backed provision in their Defense Department appropriations plan which would guarantee all service members earn at least $31,000 annually in base pay, potentially adding thousands more annually to the paychecks of junior enlisted troops.

The White House has opposed that plan, saying that the long-term impact of such drastic pay changes have not yet been fully studied.

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.

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