Obama visits Costco in Pr. George’s to campaign for higher minimum wage

President Obama Wednesday morning urged an increase of the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 per hour to $10.10 at a Costco in one of Washington’s suburbs, where the local government recently passed legislation to raise the wages.

Before an enthusiastic crowd, Obama discussed the new ways to build economic security for the middle class he unveiled Tuesday night to Congress — chiefly he pledged his renewed commitment to raise the hourly rate for all Americans and said he will lead by example starting with raising wages for some federal workers.

“I am choosing this to be a year of action, because too many Americans are working harder than ever just to get by much less get ahead,” he told a cheering crowd, saying the wages and incomes of ordinary people have not gone up in over a decade.

“Lets make sure hard work pays off,” he said. “It is time to give America a raise.”

In his State of the Union address, Obama announced he will sign an executive order that will require new federal contractors to pay federal workers the minimum wage of $10.10 an hour.

Support for raising the wages for working families has picked up in the country, with five states increasing their minimum wages since Obama called for an increase in last year’s State of the Union.

Maryland has been one of the states pushing most aggressively for a raise in its minimum wage: Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) recently proposed raising the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. In 2007, Maryland passed a “living wage” law for companies contracting with the state.

Numerous local governments have also forged ahead, in some cases passing legislation to dramatically increase the pay of low-wage workers. In the Washington area, the District of Columbia and the county councils of Prince George’s and Montgomery voted last year to reach $11.50 by 2017. Obama on Wednesday said he supported the local efforts, praising those councils for not waiting for Congress or state legislators to act.

“If you want to take the initiative to raise your minimum wage laws to help more working Americans . . . then I am going to be there right there by your side,” Obama said. “People outside of Washington are not waiting on Congress, and I am not either.”

The Obama administration said that with increased support for higher wages across the country and historically bipartisan support for such policies, it believes Congress could pass legislation. The White House said that a higher national minimum wage would increase morale, reduce turnover and boost productivity.

Obama is pushing for passage of a bill sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) that would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 and index it to inflation. Congress last increased the national minimum wage seven years ago.

“No one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty, ” Obama said in his State of the Union address. “Join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise.”

Obama came to Costco, a business that Obama said is taking the leadership to pay its workers fair wages. Costco has supported previous increases in the minimum wage because, the administration said, “it helps build a strong workforce and profitability over the long run.”

Alpha Tajudeen, 33, who is making $13.50 an hour as a stocker at the Costco in Lanham, said earning more than minimum has allowed him to live the American dream and support his wife and two children.

“It is challenging for even those of us making more than the minimum. You can’t take care of your family when you earn $7 or $8 an hour,” he said.

Prince George’s officials called the president’s effort an opportunity to raise salaries for all working families.

“This is a national issue. It is a problem that people are dealing with and trying to live and raise a family and feed their families with something that is unreasonable,” said Andrea Harrison, a member of the Prince George’s County Council who led the effort last year to increase wages. “The bottom line is that the minimum wage needs to be raised for all of these workers who are trying to take care of family.”

Later Wednesday, Obama will visit a steel plant in West Mifflin, Pa., near Pittsburgh, where he will pitch his plan to create a new retirement savings program that will allow workers that don’t have retirement programs through their employers to access one through the federal government.

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.

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