It's time to give America a raise. That was one of the basic, core messages in President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night. He called on Congress to do what 21 states and the District of Columbia have already done -- increase the minimum wage so that working people have enough in their paychecks to provide for their families.
Forward-looking companies get that this makes smart business sense. That's why the president and I visited a Costco store in Lanham, Md., the morning after his speech. Costco pays their workers good wages with benefits, while selling good products at competitive prices and remaining quite profitable.
You see, as the President pointed out, Costco CEO Craig Jelinek isn't doing this just for fun; he's got his eye on the bottom line just like any good businessman. But he understands that he can't keep his business on top by running a race to the bottom. That's why I shop at Costco. My wife and I have been members for more than 17 years -- ever since we were buying diapers for our first-born who's now on her way to college.
But they're not the only company following this model. I just got back from a visit to the 5th Street Ace Hardware store in Washington, where all employees make more than the federal minimum wage, most earning $10 per hour or more.
A few weeks ago, I met with a restaurant owner from Brooklyn who told me that he's been able to retain his dishwashers for more than a year, thus reducing high training costs. That's a tall order for a position known for high turnover, but he did it by paying them $11 per hour. It stands to reason: Higher wages means higher loyalty and morale, which means higher productivity, which means a more profitable business.
But we can't wait for every employer to see the light. So the president is using his authority to sign an executive order mandating that federal contractors pay their federally-funded employees at least $10.10 an hour. Because, as he put it in the State of the Union: "If you cook our troops' meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn't have to live in poverty."
But I would support one step that would render that Executive Order moot -- to make a $10.10 minimum wage the law of the land for everyone. The legislation has been introduced. It's just waiting for Congress to show the leadership, to take a common-sense step that, by the way, enjoys the support of more than three-quarters of Americans.
Increasing the minimum wage is part of the president's vision of opportunity for all, a fair chance to get ahead if you're willing to work hard. It will help families and it will help businesses. It's the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. So let's give America a raise.
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