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How good is military pay?

Staff Sgt. Brandon Van Dusen, 26, says fear among recruits and their parents is the most powerful factor in the decline in recruiting.
Staff Sgt. Brandon Van Dusen, 26, says fear among recruits and their parents is the most powerful factor in the decline in recruiting. Chuck Kennedy / MCT

WASHINGTON — Last year, an unmarried 22-year-old Army specialist or corporal, an E-4 in Army terminology — a statistically typical enlistee — earned $70,450 in total compensation, according to the Congressional Budget Office. About half was in basic pay, allowances for food and housing, and the tax advantage that military personnel receive because those allowances aren't subject to federal income taxes.

The remainder was in noncash or deferred benefits. About 8 percent consisted of subsidized goods and services, such as medical care and groceries bought at commissaries. The rest consisted of retirement annuities and education, health and other benefits received after leaving active duty. About 40 percent of this portion of money will go to veterans who leave without serving 20 years and about 60 percent will go to those who stay in.

A married E-4 with two children earned $85,800 in total compensation last year, according to the CBO. About half the additional money came in cash compensation, such as larger food and housing allowances. The rest came as noncash compensation, such as subsidized child care and additional health and commissary services, and in deferred compensation.

Neither the single nor married figure includes added pay for foreign deployment, hazardous duty or special skills. Nor does it include bonuses for enlistment or re-enlistment.

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