Paycheck Chronicles

Pay and Allowances: Fair, or Not?


Over at's spouse blog, SpouseBUZZ, there is an interesting conversation about whether family programs should be rank-based.  While that is a fascinating topic, it isn't a Paycheck Chronicles topic, but in the comments there is a brewing debate that seems appropriate for us here.

The comment exchange started like this:

"Like the "progressive" tax structure our country has in place, this is punitive for those who have attained some measure of success in their career. Like requiring an Officer pay for uniforms and patches when Enlisted get them for free. What is the reason for the slightly higher pay again"
Well, as you can imagine, commenters were not about to let that statement go unchallenged.  The conversation continued:
" 'Enlisted get them for free'? Really? Because my E4 husband just spent the last of his paycheck on a new uniform and patches when he changed units"
"Think he was referring to the clothing allowance that enlisted get but officers don't"
"I won't complain about getting a little extra help, but I don't think a clothing allowance of like $300/year really covers the cost of uniforms. So, "free" is rather inaccurate. Considering that officers easily make double what enlisted make (and get much higher BAH since apparently it costs a lot more to live if you are a higher rank), I really don't think you have much room to complain about pay"
"Free? My husband just laid three hundred dollars out of one paycheck on deployment gear. It was his first deployment and his packing list was given to him 10 days before he left. You remind me of an E5 I know that complains about how much gas is for his BMW"
I was thinking about an appropriate comment to leave, and then I decided to bring the conversation over here instead.  I didn't want to throw fuel on the brewing fire, I didn't think these comments were really completely relative to the original post, and well, it is about money!  What I was going to comment was something about how we can all agree that the military pay structure is messy.  However, these comments seemed to be going beyond the pure economics of any perceived inequity.

It is easy to characterize this as an enlisted vs. officer topic.  Officers make more in base pay, enlisted folks get clothing allowances that officers do not, and enlisted get more BAS than officers.  (I STILL haven't figured that out!)  However, with over 70 different pays and allowances, total military compensation is about much more than rank.  Variations for occupation, time in service, duty station, and deployment status mean that a lower-ranking service member can make much more  than a higher ranking service member.  Assignment incentive pay can, in extreme circumstances, be even more than base pay.   There are even special allowances, such as BAH-Diff and Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance, specifically for unusual family situations.  And bonuses - we could write pages on the relative merits of various bonus programs.

Even with all its complexity and chaos, I think that the military compensation package is relatively well-thought out and generally fair.  Sure, there are people who are making more money for less work, but that is true in any employment environment.  Most people in the military increase their income by taking on more responsibility, doing jobs that are valuable to the military, or sticking around despite the rough times.

I imagine that many of you have thoughts on this subject, and I'd love to hear them!  Do you think that military compensation comes together in a sensible fashion, or not?  Do you see huge inequities in pay, or do you think that it is general fair?  What's your experience?

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