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United States Military Basic Pay History

U.S. Military Pay History

Before 1920, in congressional legislation the term most commonly used to define what is now known as "basic pay" was "the pay of" because pay was mostly defined by Servicemember's job and not by a pay structure like the one we are used to today, e.g., "the pay of the schoolmaster shall be twenty-five dollars per month and two rations per day."[1]

Military "base pay", the term used from 1920 to 1949, and "basic pay", the term used from 1949 to present, is the primary pay earned by each member serving in the armed forces of the United States (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard*)[2][3].

Covering from the year 1794 through present day to the projections for pay as disseminated by the Department of Defense, each of the military pay charts are associated with the pay raise percentage and the President who signed the legislation or executive order that implemented it -- a blue line would indicate the President was of the Democratic Party, and a red line for Republican.

U.S. Military Pay Raise History, 1794 to Present Day

United States' military pay charts.
The 2010's Military Pay and Allowance Charts
The 2000's Military Pay and Allowance Charts
G.W. Bush
ClintonG.W. Bush
The 1990's Military Pay and Allowance Charts
H.W. BushClinton
The 1980's Military Pay and Allowance Charts
The 1970's Military Pay and Allowance Charts
8.1%7.9% & 11.6%7.2%6.7%6.2%
The 1960's Military Pay and Allowance Charts
12.6%2.5%E:11% O:6%3.2%
The 1950's Military Pay and Allowance Charts
22.9% 4%10%8.3%
The 1940's Military Pay Charts
The 1900's to 1930's Military Pay Charts
T. RooseveltWilsonHarding
1908-19191920-19211922-1942 Officer Pay1922-1940 Enlisted Pay
The 1800's Navy Pay Charts
1862-186918701893 CPO
The 1790's Navy Pay and Ration Charts

Es = Estimated. P = Proposed. E = Enlisted. O = Officer. C = Latest congressional approval.

2017-2019 estimates based on the Department of Defense budget desires as laid out in the Green Book for FY-2016 released on March 17, 2015.
1986 pay frozen at 1985 levels. The 1986 chart does not display what was paid, but does show the amount per the 3% increase that was passed and would have been paid out if not for being frozen.
Note ¹:
Targeted basic pay raises effective July 1, 2000 beyond the approved January 1, 2000 increase of 4.8%.
Note ¹ˆ¹:
Targeted increases, effective July 1, 2001, the basic pay amounts for enlisted personnel in grades E-5 through E-7.
Note ¹ˆ²:
Additional targeted increase totaling 4.6% for various pay grades effective April 1, 2007. Added longevity raises at the 30, 34 and 38 year mark for only the most senior enlisted and officer pay grades.
Note ¹ˆ³:
Pay raise of one percent for all pay grades except O-7 through O-10 which were frozen at 2014 levels.

*The Coast Guard is currently a part of the Department of Homeland Security, and it is from that budget the compensation for personnel in the Coast Guard is derived. United States Code Title 14 dictates that the Coast Guard will be a branch of the military at all times. Because of its status as a military branch, even when it previously fell under the Department of Transportation, the pay and allowances have always been in lock-step with that of the Department of Defense.

Public Law 67-235, the "Joint Service Pay Readjustment Act of 1922", signed by President Harding on June 10, 1922, was the first pay legislation that dealt with compensation for all the Services. It increased the pay rates, and established that officers would be paid according to “pay periods.” The Act essentially created the first pay tables for officer and enlisted personnel in which pay was based on longevity, and not just pay grade.

Public Law 77-607, the "Pay Readjustment Act of 1942", signed into law by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II, instituted the method of computing longevity pay for enlisted personnel the same as that for commissioned officers, that is, 5 percent of base pay for each three years of service, up to a maximum of 30 years.

Public Law 81-351, the "Career Compensation Act of 1949", signed by President Truman on the 12th of October 1949, was the first legislation that made reference to the primary element of Servicemembers' pay as “basic pay.” Basic pay was coupled with the two primary allowances “basic allowance for quarters” (BAQ) and “basic allowance for subsistence” (BAS).

Each year, Congress and the President has the ability to write and approve new legislation as they deem necessary to change military pay; otherwise, since 1962, Title 37 of the United States Code has dictated how military pay adjustments will be automatically calculated.

How adjustments to Basic Pay are made

Currently, U.S.C. Title 37, Chapter 19, § 1009 -- Adjustments of monthly basic pay, reads, "An adjustment made under this section in a year shall provide all eligible members with an increase in the monthly basic pay that is the percentage (rounded to the nearest one-tenth of one percent) by which the Employment Cost Index [wages and salaries, private industry workers] for the base quarter of the year before the preceding year [three-month period ending on September 30 of such year] exceeds the ECI for the base quarter of the second year before the preceding calendar year (if at all)."

Additionally, the Title goes on to say, "If, because of national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare, the President considers the pay adjustment which would otherwise be required by this section in any year to be inappropriate, the President shall prepare and transmit to Congress before September 1 of the preceding year a plan for such alternative pay adjustments as the President considers appropriate, together with the reasons therefor."

Date page updated: October 31, 2015.

[1] "An Act to increase the Navy of the United States.", approved January 2, 1813. United States Statutes at Large, Volume 02, pg. 789, Government Printing Office. [2] Section 9., Joint Service Pay Readjustment Act of 1922, United States Statutes at Large, Volume 42, pg. 625-633, Government Printing Office. [3] Career Compensation Act of 1949, United States Statutes at Large, Volume 63, pg. 802, Government Printing Office.

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