WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama traveled to a Costco store in suburban Maryland Wednesday to tout his support for raising the minimum wage, a key piece of the yearlong agenda he unveiled in his State of the Union address.
“It’s time to give America a raise,” Obama told a few hundred people in the Lanham, Md., store, surrounded by stacks of paper towels and garbage bags. “Just last year alone, workers earning the minimum wage basically got the equivalent of a $200 pay cut because the minimum wage stayed the same, but costs of everything else are going up.”
Raising the minimum wage, the president said, would reduce employee turnover, increase productivity and give Americans more money in their pockets to spend.
Obama is urging Congress to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour by 2015. A legislative increase would affect 27 million workers, according to an analysis of census data by the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute.
“There are some steps businesses have taken on their own, there are steps that certain states and counties and cities are taking on their own, there are steps I’m gonna take as president, but ultimately Congress does have to do its part to catch up to the rest of the country on this,” he said.
Obama proposed a mix of old and new policies at his State of the Union address Tuesday, saying they would close the gap between rich and poor by creating new jobs, training workers, educating children and making sure hard work pays off. He said that he wants to work with Congress but that he will act on his own when he can, if necessary.
He later talked about his starter retirement savings accounts in Pittsburgh. On Thursday, he will give speeches in Milwaukee and Nashville, Tenn. He will host an online chat from the White House on Friday and be joined there by chief executive officers to talk about an initiative to secure commitments from major corporations not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed during hiring.
Obama came to Costco to highlight that the company’s CEO pays entry-level employees such as cashiers and stock associates $11.50 an hour, while the average hourly salary is $20 an hour before benefits or overtime.
He also said anew that he will issue an executive order to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour for employees involved in future government contracts.
The White House offered no estimate of how many workers the change would affect, though supporters guess that the number would reach into the hundreds of thousands, including those who serve food and wash dishes, clean laundry and buildings, and manufacture military uniforms.
William R. Dougan, national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents 110,000 federal workers, said his organization supports Obama’s proposal but that it should include federal hourly workers. “The president needs to stand with all federal workers, not just federal contractors,” he said.
Democratic lawmakers support raising the minimum wage, though the legislation does not appear to be a priority in Congress.
“No American working a full-time job should live in poverty, and Congress must act to raise the minimum wage for all our nation’s workers,” Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. said on the Senate floor. “A strong middle class – and an opportunity for every American to enter that middle class – is the key to this nation’s prosperity.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dubbed Obama’s speech the “same tired boilerplate we hear year after year.”
“When you peel back all the adjectives and the anecdotes, all the platitudes and nods to the left – what remained for the middle class?” he asked. “Largely the same tired policies that led us to this point – the same failed agenda with its legacy of stagnant unemployment, lower incomes, growing inequality and crumbling pathways to the future.”
David Lightman in Washington contributed.