Veterans May Earn More Than Civilians in Post-Military Careers, Study Shows

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Veterans and service members speak with business representatives about job opportunities at the Recruit Military Job Fair at San Diego, July 11, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Jake McClung)
Veterans and service members speak with business representatives about job opportunities at the Recruit Military Job Fair at San Diego, July 11, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Jake McClung)

In many ways, the United States military is one of the most successful middle-class jobs programs ever created. No matter what someone's background is, they can join the military, learn a new skill while working, and leave with years of experience and education under their belt.

While there are many other reasons to join the military (and many reasons not to join), it's worth looking at post-military possibilities. That's what one veteran-oriented law firm sought to do.

Florida-based Hill & Ponton Attorneys used 2019 data collected by the University of Minnesota's Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) office to assess how much veterans are paid versus their civilian counterparts. They also looked at which states are better for vets and what careers pay better after the military.

The firm wanted to determine whether starting life in the military is more financially beneficial in the long run than taking a more traditional job training or college-first route.

It discovered that veterans do get an advantage over civilians in a nationwide data analysis. This number doesn't account for differences in career fields, however. In 2019, they found the average American salary was just over $54,000 for those who never served in the military. Veterans averaged much better, earning $65,700 annually.

And veterans earn substantially more as they age. Average pay for veterans jumps from around $38,000 for those in their 20s to more than $60,000 every year for vets in their 30s. Civilians lag around $10,000 per year behind in most age groups.

The states where veterans tend to earn more money may not come as a surprise, but the differences between veterans and civilians in those states might. The top five locations for veterans to earn are Washington, D.C.; Connecticut; New Jersey; Massachusetts; and Michigan. While Michigan is fifth in that list, veterans in the Wolverine State earn 65% more on average than civilians there.

Keep in mind, this is all before the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, so the results may have changed.

Over the past 20 years, average incomes for American workers increased overall. But for civilians with no military experience, the improvement has been much better. Average veterans are earning $26,000 more per year than they were in 2000. This is one of few areas where civilian workers performed better in the data: Civilians are earning $32,000 more than they were in 2000.

This means the average veteran has always made more than the average civilian -- but civilians are closing that gap.

In a survey of 25 career fields, the firm found just a handful of areas where it (literally) pays not to join the military first. Careers where civilians earn more than veterans include doctors and surgeons, lawyers and judges, the information technology sector, sales representatives, general management and accounting.

To see the full set of statistics, which includes states with the largest increases in veteran income over 20 years, the states with high unemployment rates among veterans and even a scale of the gender pay gap among veterans, read the study at Hill & Ponton.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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