For troops, latest raise nothing to write home about
January 17, 2007
Troops got their first paycheck of the year over the holiday weekend, and with it their first look at their annual raise.
Most Europe-based troops who were asked about the raise Tuesday didn’t even notice it.
The 2.2 percent increase in basic pay that went into effect Jan. 1 was the smallest raise troops have gotten since the 2.2 percent raise in 1994.
Fortunately, some people weren’t expecting to see their pay jump at the start of the new year.
“Obviously, the money’s going elsewhere,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jimmie Sanders, alluding to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sanders, a member of the 32nd Signal Battalion in Darmstadt, Germany, said he wasn’t really keeping an eye out for the raise, which he knows kicks in every Jan. 1. If he had, he would have noticed about $33 more in his paycheck for the first half of January — before taxes.
“I’m not in this business to get rich or anything,” Sanders said.
Unless something drastic happens, he won’t.
Any effect the raise might have had on troops’ wallets has already been eaten away by inflation, which averaged 3.3 percent through the first 11 months of 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index, which is a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a number of consumer goods and services. The department has not yet released inflation data for December.
“Maybe that’s saying something about the economy and inflation, that maybe it’s [improving], but I doubt it,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Glenn Robertson, stationed at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy. “But because it’s (the raise is) not something I really noticed, I’m less likely to worry about the fact that it’s the smallest that it’s been in 13 years.”
Despite the raise, troops now have less spending power than they had at this time last year. For troops living in Europe, where the dollar has generally slid against the British pound and the euro, this fact is felt even more keenly.
“I’ve only been in the Air Force for about a year, but the raise doesn’t sound real good because of the cost of living here,” said Airman 1st Class Chris Francis, an aircraft structural maintainer for the 100th Maintenance Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, England. Francis was among those who failed to notice any difference in his first paycheck of the year.
There are basically two reasons the raise is so small. First is that from 2001 through 2006, the formula for calculating military raises used U.S. Labor Department employment cost data as a baseline, and added an extra half percent to that.
But the extra half percent was eliminated from raises from 2007 on under the fiscal 2004 National Defense Authorization Act.
The raise was dragged down further by employment costs across the U.S. going up more slowly last year than they had in at least five years prior.
Some of the most junior enlisted troops are seeing an extra 93 cents a day — before taxes — added to their pay. That translates to a raise of about 11.6 cents per hour, assuming an eight-hour workday, before state and federal taxes are withdrawn.
It may seem like a pittance, but Army Pfc. Jonathan Pruett said he is saving the extra money and will use it towards investing in stocks. Pruett, of the 21st Theater Support Command in Kaiserslautern, Germany, will invest in Apple and Sirius Satellite Radio. He sees the release of Apple’s new iPhone and a potential merger between Sirius and XM Radio as prime opportunities.
“As a result, those are the stocks I chose to toy with,” Pruett said.
The most senior enlisted servicemembers with more than 26 years in service get nearly $4 a day extra before taxes.
Officers don’t fare any better, with the most junior officers getting as little as $53.10 extra per month in their checks before taxes — roughly the same raise as an E-6. A four-star general with more than 26 years in service will get a raise of about $312 per month.
First Lt. Daniel Caffarel, of the 793rd Military Police Battalion in Bamberg, said “2.2 percent of what I make is not a lot of money.”
Reporters Charlie Coon, Sandra Jontz, Sean Kimmons, Steve Mraz, and Mark St. Clair contributed to this story.