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Middle-class Americans Agree Servicemembers Paid Less Than Civilians, First Command Reports

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FORT WORTH, Texas — At a time when defense officials are looking to slow the pace of military pay growth, the majority of middle-class servicemembers and civilians agree that men and women in uniform are still underpaid compared to other U.S. workers.

Six out of 10 Americans with household incomes of at least $50,000 believe that military compensation, including base pay plus allowances, is lower than salaries for comparable jobs in the broader marketplace, according to the First Command Financial Behaviors Index®. This widely-held view of income disparity comes at a time of increasing government scrutiny regarding the impact of military pay on the federal budget. It flies in the face of findings by the Congressional Budget Office, which reports that military pay has outstripped inflation and private sector compensation by more than 25 percent during the past decade. The Department of Defense says that the average servicemember is now receiving $5,400 more in annual compensation than a comparable civilian.

The Pentagon had been expected to include a 1.7 percent pay raise for servicemembers for 2014, but in recent weeks officials proposed a 1 percent pay increase to cut overall costs, according to a story by Stars and Stripes. Previously the Pentagon had proposed slowing down or freezing pay increases beginning in FY 2015 for an estimated savings of $16.5 billion over the next five years.

The RAND Corporation has proposed several options for slowing the increase in military pay. Assuming some action is taken by the Defense department, First Command’s survey respondents say the best of the proposed choices would be:

  • A four-year series of smaller raises set at the Employment Cost Index minus a half percentage point (44 percent of respondents).
  • A single-year pay freeze, meaning no pay rate increase for one year (39 percent).
  • A one-time increase in pay set at half a percent below the Employment Cost Index (17 percent).

As leaders in Washington continue to look for ways to trim federal spending, military pay will remain on the table – and military families will continue to worry about their futures.

&8220;Servicemembers and their families are worried about how defense downsizing will affect their pay, benefits and career opportunities,&8221; said Scott Spiker, CEO of First Command Financial Services. &8220;Half of surveyed households anticipate a reduction in their military retirement benefits and increased responsibility for healthcare costs. Many believe they are less likely to be promoted and more likely to experience early separation. The result is an uncertain economic future for many military families.&8221;

Military families are responding to this uncertainty through a variety of belt-tightening actions. Almost half are cutting back on everyday spending. Other changes cited by survey respondents include increasing the amount of savings (28 percent) and decreasing the aggressiveness of investments (20 percent).

Notably, these frugal behaviors are helping military families feel more optimistic about the uncertain period ahead. The Index reveals that 43 percent are extremely or very confident their financial situation will improve in the next year. This compares to just 26 percent of the general population.

&8220;Military families are responding to an uncertain future by spending less, saving more and paying down debt,&8221; Spiker said. &8220;By making positive changes in their financial lives these families are finding the peace of mind that comes from feeling more secure and confident in their financial future.&8221;

About First Command Financial Behaviors Index®

Compiled by Sentient Decision Science, Inc., the First Command Financial Behaviors Index® assesses trends among the American public’s financial behaviors, attitudes and intentions through a monthly survey of approximately 530 U.S. consumers aged 25 to 70 with annual household incomes of at least $50,000. Results are reported quarterly. The margin of error is +/- 4.3 percent with a 95 percent level of confidence. Financial Behaviors Index

About Sentient Decision Science, Inc.

Sentient Decision Science was commissioned by First Command to compile the Financial Behaviors Index®. SDS is a behavioral science and consumer psychology consulting firm with special vertical expertise within the financial services industry. SDS specializes in advanced research methods and statistical analysis of behavioral and attitudinal data.

About First Command

First Command Financial Services and its subsidiaries, including First Command Bank and First Command Financial Planning, assist American families in their efforts to build wealth, reduce debt and pursue their lifetime financial goals and dreams—focusing on consumer behavior as the first and most powerful determinant of results. Through knowledgeable advice and coaching of the financial behaviors conducive to success, First Command Financial Advisors have built trustworthy, lasting relationships with hundreds of thousands of client families since 1958.

First Command Financial Services, Inc., is the parent of First Command Financial Planning, Inc. (Member SIPC, FINRA), First Command Insurance Services, Inc. and First Command Bank. Financial planning services and investment products, including securities, are offered by First Command Financial Planning, Inc. Insurance products and services are offered by First Command Insurance Services, Inc. in all states except Montana, where as required by law, insurance products and services are offered by First Command Financial Services, Inc. (a separate Montana domestic corporation). Banking products and services are offered by First Command Bank. In certain states, as required by law, First Command Insurance Services, Inc. does business as a separate domestic corporation. Securities products are not FDIC insured, have no bank guarantee and may lose value. A financial plan, by itself, cannot assure that retirement or other financial goals will be met.


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