Skip to main content

Does the Economy Suck? My Army/Civilian Pay Comparison Says YES!


In the early 1983, I was a 30-year-old Army Reserve tank commander and a dock worker at Yellow Freight Systems in Lancaster, Pa.  For a drill weekend, I earned $180.  At Yellow Freight I earned $12/hour with full medical, dental and even retirement if I had stayed longer.

Thirty years later in 2013, I was an Army National Guard sergeant and earned $360 for a drill weekend.  My Army pay had doubled.  Yellow Freight's Lancaster terminal closed years ago.  But similar work in the Lancaster area pays $12/hour with fewer or no benefits.

In the 1980s, major trucking companies employed thousands of workers to transfer freight from one truck to another.  Computers now consolidate freight in a way that needs far less handling and far fewer workers.

Most of the soldiers I served with in the 68th Armor in 1983 had blue collar jobs and earned a decent living, as I did, with their hands and backs.

Many of the soldiers I served with in the Army National Guard 30 years later were unemployed or underemployed. Some had volunteered for multiple deployments to get a year of full-time benefits and full-time pay.

By 1985, I had finished college and had a white collar job at Godfrey Advertising.  I think the economy has been nothing but wonderful all of my life.  I made a $1.60/hour for my first full-time job selling toys at Sears in Burlington, Mass.  When I enlisted in the Army, I earned $283/month.  By the time I left active duty in 1979 as a sergeant, my base pay was $5,000/year.  When I was in Iraq in 2009 my pay at the same rank had almost quadrupled.

When I started at Godfrey Advertising I was making just under $20,000/year. Twenty years later I was a consultant with a six-figure income.

But the blue collar workers I worked with before I entered the professional world are making the same or less now than they did in the 80s, and with less job security.  In the middle of the 20th century into the 80s, the American economy allowed almost everybody to make a living.  Today's economy is skewed to the educated.

When I got back from Iraq in 2010, the state of Pennsylvania gave every returning soldier six months of medical care.  They did it because half the soldiers returning from deployment had no medical coverage when they left active duty.

Capitalism pays for what it values.  It is clear that 21st century America does not value blue collar workers.  

Popular posts from this blog

Different Water for Sinks and Toilets--Camp Beuhring, Kuwait, and Amtrak

On the train to Philadelphia recently, the toilets had water, but the sinks did not in the last two cars. I walked three cars away from my seat to wash my hands. On the way back, I let the conductor know about the lack of water.  He said there are different water systems for the sinks and the toilets.  Then smiled and said the water is blue in the toilets.  
I told the conductor about a morning at Camp Beuhring, Kuwait, in April 2009. We were there for training before we went to Camp Adder, Iraq.  During our two-week stay, we slept in 77-man tents.  Outside the tent were several sinks and mirrors just standing in the open on the sand. I wish I had a picture.  
About twenty yards away were Porta-Johns or Shit Ovens, which everyone called the plastic enclosures when the temperature approached 120 degrees.  One morning just after down I went out to the sinks, brushed my teeth, then walked toward the Porta-Johns.  One of the soldiers just stepped out of one and was walking toward me.  
H…

Ten Years Ago Today: Cold War Soldier Starts Re-enlistment Process

The Night Before Basic, Killing Brain and Lung Cells
On January 31, 1972, I flew to Texas to begin basic training. On April 2, 2007, ten years ago today, I called Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Askew, recruiting sergeant for the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, and began the process of re-enlisting after 23+ years as a civilian.  I was 53 years old at the time, about to turn 54.

In the Spring of 2007, The Surge in Iraq was in full swing and recruitment for the Army was down a lot. The economy was good, Congress would not even consider re-starting the Draft, so in late 2006 Congress raised the maximum first-enlistment age for the Army from 35 to 42 years old.

The program was a failure and was rescinded three years later. But that failed program allowed me to re-enlist.  The maximum enlistment age for soldiers with prior service is the enlistment age plus the years of prior service plus a one-year waiver.  I needed all of that.

I called three recruiters before I called Kevin. He was the first one…

My Last Tanker Nickname: Oddball

Donald Sutherland as Oddball, a tank commander in the movie "Kelly's Heroes"
I got my last tanker nickname more than a decade after I earned the nickname Sgt. Bambi Killer.I got that nickname on a business trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2000.The company I worked for just bought a company in Brazil and I was part of a team that went to Brazil to introduce ourselves to the people who ran the business.
Sao Paulo has traffic that makes Los Angeles look like Omaha, so the local managers sent a limo for the four of us. This meant we could be more comfortable on the three-hour 20-mile trip from the airport to downtown. 
At the time I had a beard and still had a lot of brown hair.  Among the local staff people who were waiting to meet us was my now long-time friend Ivan Porccino. Ivan speaks five languages and was assigned as our interpreter.  When we got in the car, Ivan introduced us to the driver and said we would be in Sao Paulo for a few days. The driver said, “I love Americ…