Pentagon experts report pay gap for enlistees

  • Tom Philpott / Military Update
  • Sunday, July 9, 2000 9:00pm
  • Local News

Pentagon pay experts and economists have combed through fresh data on the educational attainment and the job demands of career enlistees and confirmed a disturbing pay gap with civilian peers working in the private sector.

Defense officials aren’t prepared yet to release the data, or to say how wide the pay gap might be. But their analyses, so far, not only justify the Senate’s call for a special pay raise in October for enlisted grades E-5 through E-7, but they indicate that such a raise might not be big enough, or touch enough of the enlisted force.

Dr. Curtis Gilroy, director of the Pentagon’s 9th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation, said the traditional practice of comparing pay of enlisted members with the pay of same-age civilians who graduated from high school "may not be as relevant as it once was."

In the same interview, Navy Capt. Elliott Bloxom, director of military compensation for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said only a "smattering" of recruits have college experience, and even fewer have college degrees when they enter service. But by mid-career, many enlisted have gone well beyond a high school education.

"By 15 years of service," said Bloxom, "most have some college or a degree. Yet they’re still being compared against pay of high school graduates."

That enlisted members are gaining more education over time than civilian high school peers is "extremely significant," said Gilroy. His economists are still poring over the data "to see if, in fact, we should be comparing … a portion of the enlisted (pay) table to the ‘some college’ population, in which case we are comparing to a higher earnings profile. From E-5 and above, this may be a significant finding."

Another factor that could justify higher pay levels for career enlisted, said Bloxom, "is the change in responsibilities and leadership" since downsizing. So, not only is the enlisted force better educated today, but it is being asked to do more with its educational skills, Bloxom said.

By law, the Defense Department every four years must conduct a comprehensive review of military compensation. The 9th QRMC, which began last November, is more low key than the previous eight.

Gilroy, its director, continues to serve as chief of special projects for the under secretary of Defense for personnel. He has only two staffers, both economists, working on QRMC issues full time. But he also has support contracts with RAND and other defense think tanks, and works closely with Bloxom and his compensation staff.

This 9th QRMC, Gilroy said, will produce smaller, more timely reports on various pay topics as they arise throughout this year. Its first report, for example, addressed criticism from the director of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board over Defense Department plans to open the new military Thrift Savings Plan to drilling reservists.

The board dropped its objections after RAND analysts, hired by the QRMC, began sharing preliminary data showing that reserve TSP participation would be easier to manage and would involve bigger reserve investments than the board had indicated.

Other issues under QRMC study include enhancements to the Montgomery GI Bill, the adequacy of military overseas allowances, and improving and consolidating special pay for deployments.

But the enlisted pay issue rose to the top of the QRMC agenda as Gilroy and staff looked at fresh information on enlisted educational attainments and compared it with earnings data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Voices of enlisted members are strong amid QRMC deliberations, reflecting another change, said Gilroy. A senior enlisted from each branch of service is on the QRMC’s 20-member working group. The top enlisted from each service is on QRMC’s advisory panel, which is headed by Navy Vice Adm. Patricia Tracey, deputy assistant secretary of defense.

Though QRMC results so far support the Senate’s call for a mid-grade enlisted pay raise in October, Bloxom said the Defense Department prefers House language which merely directs that the enlisted pay issue be studied. The Senate’s proposal, to raise pay by $31 a month for E-5s, $49 for E-6s and $56 for E-7s, could undo some of the pay table reforms that took effect with the July 1 raise, he said.

The study called for by the House wouldn’t take long to complete either.

"We’re not talking about a 10-year study," said Gilroy. "We’re talking about just several more months … so we do it right."

Both Gilroy and Bloxom said enlisted people should be encouraged that the Defense Department is focusing attention on enlisted pay. But both also cautioned that any significant raise in enlisted basic pay would be very expensive.

"We’re talking billions to do anything meaningful," Bloxom said.

"It’s something that has to be worked very carefully with the administration and Congress," he added. "It will get visibility, but where it goes after that becomes not just a department problem but broader than that."

Enlisted people, he said, need to temper "their expectations along those lines."

Comments and suggestions are welcomed. Write to Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA 20120-1111, or send e-mail to

Talk to us

More in Local News

FILE - A sign hangs at a Taco Bell on May 23, 2014, in Mount Lebanon, Pa. Declaring a mission to liberate "Taco Tuesday" for all, Taco Bell asked U.S. regulators Tuesday, May 16, 2023, to force Wyoming-based Taco John's to abandon its longstanding claim to the trademark. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
Hepatitis A confirmed in Taco Bell worker in Everett, Lake Stevens

The health department sent out a public alert for diners at two Taco Bells on May 22 or 23.

VOLLI’s Director of Food & Beverage Kevin Aiello outside of the business on Friday, May 19, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Coming soon to Marysville: indoor pickleball, games, drinks

“We’re very confident this will be not just a hit, but a smash hit,” says co-owner Allan Jones, who is in the fun industry.

Detectives: Unresponsive baby was exposed to fentanyl at Everett hotel

An 11-month-old boy lost consciousness Tuesday afternoon. Later, the infant and a twin sibling both tested positive for fentanyl.

Cassie Franklin (left) and Nick Harper (right)
Report: No wrongdoing in Everett mayor’s romance with deputy mayor

An attorney hired by the city found no misuse of public funds. Texts between the two last year, however, were not saved on their personal phones.

Firearm discovered by TSA officers at Paine Field Thursday morning, May 11, 2023, during routine X-ray screening at the security checkpoint. (Transportation Security Administration)
3 guns caught by TSA at Paine Field this month — all loaded

Simple travel advice: Unpack before you pack to make sure there’s not a gun in your carry-on.

Heavy traffic northbound on 1-5 in Everett, Washington on August 31, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
To beat the rush this Memorial Day weekend, go early or late

AAA projects busy airports, ferries and roads over the holiday weekend this year, though still below pre-pandemic counts.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Troopers: DUI crash leaves 1 in critical condition in Maltby

A drunken driver, 34, was arrested after her pickup rear-ended another truck late Tuesday, injuring a Snohomish man, 28.

Housing Hope CEO Donna Moulton raises her hand in celebration of the groundbreaking of the Housing Hope Madrona Highlands on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
$30M affordable housing project to start construction soon in Edmonds

Once built, dozens of families who are either homeless or in poverty will move in and receive social and work services.

Ashley Morrison, left, and her mother Cindi Morrison. (Photo provided by Cindi Morrison)
Everett’s ‘Oldest Young Cat Lady’ legacy continues after death

On social media, Ashley Morrison, 31, formed a worldwide community to talk about cats and mental health. Her mom wants to keep it going.

Most Read