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Is the Army Worth Joining: Military Pay vs. Civilian Pay

I am a mother of two, EMT, paramedic student, freelance writer, veteran, and so much more.

Discover how military pay compares to civilian pay, and see if joining the Army is worth it.

Discover how military pay compares to civilian pay, and see if joining the Army is worth it.

Broke Soldiers: Military Pay Scale

I constantly hear people in the Army say they are broke. This leads so many people to believe that the Army doesn’t pay very well. I am here to tell you that is simply not true. The Army is one of the best-paying jobs you can find if you don't have a degree. Compared to an entry-level job that requires a degree, the Army pays just as well, if not better.

These soldiers are not broke because of what they get paid. They are broke because of how they spend their money. When I was in the Army, I was only an E3, and I felt like I was living large with what I was paid.

Comparing Military and Civilian Pay

This is by no means an argument of whether soldiers are paid enough based on the risk and sacrifices they make. That is an entirely different debate. This is more of a comparison between civilian pay and military pay, assuming equivalent qualifications.

Disclaimer

I am basing all of my numbers on 2012 values. Also, any comparison in the housing arena is going to be based off of living in El Paso, Texas, and being stationed at Fort Bliss. This is important because the amount of money you get for housing differs based on the zip code you live in. For example, El Paso is going to be a lot cheaper than San Francisco in terms of housing costs.

Military Pay Scale: Better Than McDonald's

Army pay doesn’t seem like much until you look at all the different alternatives. Even the lowest rank in the Army makes good money for someone whose only accomplishment was graduating high school and signing on the dotted line. I will give you a salary scale for a few different groups of soldiers so you can see for yourself.

Army Base Pay: Single Soldier with No Children

Rank: E1 (Private)

Time in Service: 1 day

Base Pay: $1491

Housing Allowance: $400

Technically you don't get any cash for your housing allowance. Instead, you receive a barracks room, where you share a kitchen and bathroom with one other person. This is free and so are all the utilities. In El Paso, this kind of housing situation is worth around $400.

Food Allowance: $348

Total Value: $2,239 per month

$26,868 per year

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*Using the standard 40-hour work week and 52 weeks per year model, this comes out to $12.92/hr.

Army Salary Scale: Single with Children & Married with or without Children

Rank: E1 (Private)

Time in Service: 1 day

Base Pay: $1491/mo

Housing Allowance: $1038

Food Allowance: $348

Total Value: $2,877 per month

$34,524 per year

*Using the standard 40-hour work week and 52 weeks per year model, this comes out to $16.60/hr.

Comparison: Army Pay vs. Civilian Pay

Compare these incomes to some common civilian situations where only a high school diploma is required.

Minimum Wage

$7.25 per hours X 40 hours per week

$1,257 per month

$15,084 per year

Minimum wage is nowhere near what the lowest paid Private gets paid in the Army. To top it off, those jobs almost never have any other benefits included.

But I went to College . . .

You may be thinking, “OK that’s great for someone with no college or experience but what if I have a bachelor degree?” Here is a breakdown of your pay if you joined the Army with a 4-year degree. It doesn’t even matter what your degree is in! Many soldiers like to say you can have a degree in underwater basket weaving, and it’s true!

Single Soldier With No Children

Rank: O1 (Second Lieutenant)

Time in Service: 1 day

Base Pay: $2828/mo

Housing Allowance: $969

Food Allowance: $240

Total Value: $4,037 per month

$48,444 per year

*Using the standard 40-hour work week and 52 weeks per year model, this comes out to $23.29/hr.

Single with Children & Married with or without Children

Rank: O1 (Second Lieutenant)

Time in Service: 1 day

Base Pay: $2828/mo

Housing Allowance: $1119

Food Allowance: $240

Total Value: $4,187 per month

$50,244 per year

*Using the standard 40-hour work week and 52 weeks per year model, this comes out to $24.16/hr.

Army Benefits

is-it-worth-it-to-join-the-army-a-review-of-army-pay

Vacation Time vs. Overtime

Some may argue that soldiers only make more than civilians because they work plenty more than 40 hours per week. That may be true, but it is not always the case. Some weeks have more off-time because there is nothing important to do and you can go home early. Also, how many civilian jobs give you 30 days of paid vacation? For a normal five-day work week, this is six weeks of paid vacation. If looked at another way or 240 hours of paid vacation. This is based on an eight-hour work day. Also, these leave days (paid vacation) do not count all of the four-day weekends soldiers are given. There are probably around ten 4 day weekends in the year. These are for holidays like President’s Day, Memorial Day, Martin Luther King Day, Thanksgiving, etc. Please, let me know if your civilian job pays this.

A typical day for a soldier, who's not deployed, looks like this

0630 – 0730: PT

0730 – 0900: Breakfast/Shower time

0900 – 1130: Work

1130 – 1300: Lunch Break

1300 – 1700: Work

This is truly a typical work schedule most soldiers will experience.

Total daily working hours = 8

Total hours from start to finish = 10.5

If you calculate it all out, including the soldier’s longer working hours, 24 hour work days every now and then, extra 4 days weekend and prolonged paid vacation; soldiers still work an average 40 hour work week.

Army Insurance

The Army gives you, your spouse, and your kids free health insurance. Insurance is expensive! Having never had to pay for it, I asked a friend what she pays for just her husband and herself and she told me around $300/month! The Army is, in essence, paying you an extra $300/month by giving you this free healthcare.

The Army also gives you life insurance for next to nothing. I believe it costs $17/month for $100,000 of coverage. You can also get around the same coverage for your spouse for about five bucks! On top of that, your children are automatically covered for $10,000.

What About Taxes?

Soldiers only pay taxes on their base pay, nothing else! So, the same exact salary in the Army compared to a civilian job, goes a lot further because the government is taking less of it.

What Do You Think?

Sources

http://www.ezarmypoints.com/2014-army-pay-charts/

www.defensetravel.dod.mil/site/bahcalc.cfm

http://usmilitary.about.com/od/2012MilPay/a/2012BAS.htm

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