High school seniors who planned to enter the job market this summer and their college-bound friends who really aren’t that serious about college have been badly hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

Those wanting jobs can expect a long wait while the economy recovers and laid-off workers are recalled. Some might be tempted to stay home and depend on the generosity their families or on public assistance. This would be a very poor choice as future prospective employers will be looking for energetic and resourceful people who don’t waste time.

Those who fill this difficult period in their employment history productively will have a competitive advantage in the job market when things improve.

When hiring, most employers count successful completion of military service as a big plus. After initial training, those in grade E-2 are paid the equivalent of $11.22 hourly (based on an eight-hour day, 21.6-hour month). There is a rapid-rate progression as the military member progresses through the lower enlisted ranks. It would be reasonable for a good man or woman to attain E-4 rank in two to four years. After only three years, a E-4 is paid the equivalent of $14.49 hourly. Of course, in the military, pay is only part of the compensation. Housing and food are also provided in exchange for the unique nature of military service. Perhaps the greater reward is the opportunity to do something important and serve others.

To provide a reasonable comparison with civilian life, I estimated the dollar value of military housing and food by relating it to Morehead State University’s charges (per its website) to students for similar services. MSU’s annual charge for room and board is $13,376. I identified $5,000 of that as the charge for the cheapest dorm room available, and counted the balance ($8,376) as food. Thus, for our young E-2, housing is valued at $2.41/hour and food at 4.03/hour for a total of $6.44/hour.

In this example, our E-2’s base pay ($11.22) plus room and board ($6.44) equals a total hourly rate of $17.66. In addition, there are 30 days paid leave per year, full medical coverage and financial help with post-service education costs and many other veterans benefits.

By comparison with his/her classmates who might choose to go to Morehead this fall, our young E-2 will earn about $23,336 a year in base pay and enjoy $13,395 worth of free housing and food. This is equivalent to $36,732 a year, which is about equal to what Kentucky pays new non-technical college graduates, including teachers. Tuition and room and board at MSU, for example, amounts to $21,926 a year. This doesn’t include lost wages that could have been earned (like our E-2) had the student worked or joined the service. The real cost of college in this example is $21,926 (tuition and room and board) plus $23,336 (E-2 base pay loss) which equals $45,262 a year.

This is a bad deal if you should be one of those (about 1 of 4) who flunk out or quit four-year college; and most who aren’t really serious about it probably will. Many young people, while smart enough, lack the maturity to function in that environment either academically or socially but are uniquely qualified (by their high school experience) for the military life, which has more structure and direction. Young people can and do get into trouble and fail in the military, but most thrive and mature leading to greater success and a better life after honorable discharge. That may be a better time to consider college or other options, which could and likely will arise by that time.

Recommended for you