blindly reposting political memes on social media doesn’t make you look informed

I’m not trying to offend anyone here, so keep in mind that I’m trying to help you before you get all worked up about this.

When you hit “share” or “retweet” on that pithy politically-oriented picture that somebody painstakingly put together, you’re telling all your friends or followers that you believe the content of that picture to be true.

If you’re not 100% sure it’s true – or at least funny, I guess – you should hesitate before you clickety-click.

I’ll give you an example.


This is one of many graphics getting shared/reposted/retweeted on social media that is simply just wrong.

Let me break it down for you so you know the truth.

The president of the United States earns $400,000 a year.  He also receives another $50,000 (untaxed) for expenses related to the job – travel, holding meetings at the White House, etc.

When he’s no longer president, he gets a pension – yes, for life – that is equivalent to the pay of current Cabinet secretaries (like the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of State). Currently, that amount is $191,300.  This is called “Executive Schedule Level I” and it does increase from time to time.  This pension/salary is taxed as normal income.

There you go – the very first line of “data” in that graphic is patently and completely false. Period.  You know how long it took me to discover that?  Well, actually, I already knew it, so no time, but seriously, I looked it up anyway.  Google “presidential salary” – it’ll take you five fucking seconds. Click the first link.  Info. Bam!

Now let’s take a look at the other numbers in that graphic.

  • Senators/Representatives earn $174,000
  • Majority/minority leaders of the Senate earn $193,400
  • The speaker of the House of Representatives earns $223,500

(Please note that there is one majority leader, one minority leader and one Speaker of the House. 532 of the 535 Members of Congress receive the standard pay, as do several other non-voting MCs, like Eleanor Holmes Norton, the “delegate” for Washington, DC.)

Those numbers aren’t even transcribed 100% correctly in the graphic, which has the majority/minority leaders at $194,400, but let’s skip over that tiny error and look at the glaring error:  FOR LIFE.

Guess what?  WRONG AGAIN.

No Congressman (or woman) earns a pension unless they achieve one the following criteria:

  • Must be 62 years old AND must have served for at least 5 years (3 terms for Reps, 1 term for Senators)
  • Must be 50 years old AND must have served in Congress for 20 years
  • Must have served in Congress for 25 years (by default this means he’d be 50, as you can’t be a Representative unless you’re 25 years old)

Here’s the kicker, though: to receive the pension, the Member of Congress must have paid into the congressional pension system (which, I believe, is mandatory since 1984).  Since that is at least vaguely important, I’d like to repeat it.

To receive a congressional pension, a member of Congress must have paid into the (mandatory) congressional pension system.

The pension they receive, then, is based on how long they served and their average salary for their highest-earning three years of service.  There’s a whole confusing formula, but the bottom line is that the average pension received by any former Member of Congress is between $41,000 and $55,000.  The highest current Congressional pension paid is just over $84,000. Again, I found this with just a little searching on Google – in under a minute.  UNDER A MINUTE.

Once again using my google-fu, I found (in about 3 seconds) the Army’s website that clearly lists max pay for each grade:

  • Private, E1 – $18,194
  • Private, E2 – $20,398
  • Private First Class, E3 – $24,178
  • Specialist/Corporal, E4 – $28,840
  • Sergeant, E5 – $32,490
  • Staff Sergeant, E6 – $35,226
  • 1st Lt, O1 – $43,430
  • 2nd Lt, O2 – $55,037
  • Captain, O3 – $64,338
  • Major, O4 – $69,296    391,427

Since this is public record, you shouldn’t be surprised how easy it was to find.

You know what was also easy to find?  The combat pay differential.  A soldier deployed to a combat zone – like Afghanistan – earns $225 extra per month. This amount is prorated if they don’t serve a full month – that’s $7.50 a day.  Think about what you buy for $7.50 in any given day.  That’s what a US soldier gets – extra, mind you – for getting shot at.  How’s that $4 Starbucks mochafrappelatte taste now?

(Sorry – I apologize for getting a little soldier-righteous on you there.)

There’s also something soldiers can get called Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay (HDIP), which is an extra $150 a month.  This is based on their jobs, though, and not their location. If you want to earn this princely sum, you have to be directly in contact with something hazardous, like explosives or a flight deck, or do something hazardous, like work in the Arctic or jump out of airplanes.

Let’s do a little math.  Let’s say a Private First Class (PFC) is both an explosives tech and deployed in Afghanistan.  He’s there from 1 Jan to 31 Dec – 12 full months – so he earns the full combat differential for one year – that’s $2,700.  His HDIP for the year is $1,800, bringing his total extra pay to $4,500.  Add that to his salary – provided he has 4+ years of experience, he’s earning the max pay for a PFC – and he’s making a grand total of $28,678.

Based on a 40-hour work week, a PFC in Afghanistan who handle explosives every day earns $13.78 an hour.

(By the way, based on a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks a year, a rank & file Member of Congress earns $83.65 an hour. Yes, I realize they often work more than 40 hours a week, but they don’t work 52 weeks a year, so let’s just agree that it evens out.)

To figure out the average pay for soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, you’d have to know some specific data points, including how many soldiers are there and what grade each of them is.  Even if you just do a straight average on the listed max pay (without differentials) for 1 of each soldier from the list above, the average isn’t $38,000 – it’s just over $39,000.  When you take into consideration that there are dozens of privates in the field for every major, I have a really hard time accepting the $38,000 average stated in the graphic. I’m sure it has to be lower than that.

(A typical US Army rifle platoon – the basic unit of an infantry formation – has 36 riflemen (privates & corporals), 4 staff sergeants, at least one sergeant first class (E7), and at least a 2nd lieutenant.  Soldiers at the bottom of the pay scale outnumber soldiers at the top of it by a ratio of 6:1.)

Last but not least, let’s look at the very last number – the assertion that the average Social Security income for US seniors is $12,000.

According to the Social Security website (shit, I didn’t even need Google for that!), the average monthly benefit for a retired senior citizen is $1,230. Simple math tells us that, extrapolated to a full year, that number is $14,760. It’s not a lot more than $12,000, but my point being that the numbers are just wrong is upheld thanks to a little googling and a little math.

How far these numbers are off isn’t why I wrote this post – I wrote it because these numbers – and their assertions – are just plain fucking WRONG.

Educate yourself before you repost something. Stop being part of the problem and become part of the solution.