Washington: US President Barack Obama urged Congress on Tuesday to raise the federal minimum wage, challenging legislators to help reverse income disparity across the country.
"Say yes. Give America a raise. Give them a raise!" Obama told Congress in his State of the Union speech.
Noting that the current national minimum of USD 7.25 an hour was effectively 20 percent lower than it was a quarter-century ago, he urged the legislature, which has resisted hiking the baseline over the past year, to pass a bill that would hike the national base rate, covering all workers, nearly 40 percent to USD 10.10.
"This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend," he said.
As he pressed an agenda to boost incomes for lower and middle class Americans, Obama lauded five states which in the past year have increased their own floor wage rates, and praised companies that pay more than they have to.
"Profitable corporations like Costco see higher wages as the smart way to boost productivity and reduce turnover. We should too."
Obama announced he would soon issue an executive order requiring government contractors to pay their workers at least USD 10.10 an hour, skirting the need for Congressional approval.
That would potentially boost the incomes of hundreds of thousands of workers cleaning government buildings or working low-skilled jobs on military bases.
"Because if you cook our troops` meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn`t have to live in poverty," he said.
Obama stressed that most people accept that some will earn more than others.
But he added: "Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty."
The push for higher wages comes amid a recovery from the 2008-2009 economic crisis that sees wealthy Americans making more than ever, but most of the country`s real wages still below where they were prior to the crisis.
Obama proposed other new measures to help poorer citizens including a new "starter" retirement savings plan that will have the government`s backing and broader tax credits for low-income families.
In addition, he called on Congress to reinstate unemployment support payments for some 1.6 million jobless Americans that were cut off at the beginning of the year as part of a budget deal.
First Published: Wednesday, January 29, 2014, 10:00