Key military pay indicator announced: Will you get the raise you deserve?

Key military pay indicator announced: Will you get the raise you deserve?
(Capt. Kylee Ashton/DoD Flickr)

It is time for some serious discussions about military pay.

The Employment Cost Index (ECI) is officially 3.1 percent, per Wednesday's Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) release, kicking off an annual conversation about military pay and benefits. It should not be a challenge to get our currently serving uniformed servicemembers the raise they deserve.

As reported on October 9, a 3.1 percent ECI was expected - in fact, economic indicators and the national employment picture have pointed to this for a while.

The BLS considers ECI to be a primary economic indicator of private sector wage growth, and calculates the measure quarterly based on changes in the cost of labor. Wages, salaries, and employee benefit costs are the leading drivers of change in the index. By statute, a 3.1 percent ECI means the military pay raise should also be 3.1 percent. If policymakers don't get in the way, that would be the largest pay raise in 10 years.

If enacted, the raise would take effect on January 1, 2020.

Some may question if a 3.1 percent pay raise is too generous. In essence, this thought process amounts to “What's the bare minimum we can pay to keep people content enough to stay in uniform? How little can we pay troops before conditions become so bad they decide to vote with their feet and leave the service?”

Any decision to cap military pay kicks off a slippery slope. Once pay is capped one year, it's easy to do it again and again. Congress has been through this before. Decisions to make small caps to military pay raises over time eventually resulted in a 13.5 percent pay raise gap, leading to dismal recruiting and retention. DoD officials eventually had to go to Congress to ask for higher than usual pay raises to fix the inequity.

Congress determined the need for a benchmark, legislating military pay raises based on ECI for private workers' wages and salaries.

However, the president has the authority to cap the pay raise based on a national emergency or serious economic conditions. If President Donald Trump were to do this, he must also notify Congress in writing of his intent.

MOAA wants to be sure the full 3.1 percent pay raise is passed into law. We will convey these concerns to the Secretary of Defense and the President of the United States, as they will be the ones to make the first moves on the decision in the president's FY 2020 budget request, scheduled for release in early 2019.

We expect a lot from our troops. Let's pay them what they deserve.