President Obama on Wednesday signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for new federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour and urged the public to pressure lawmakers to approve a hike for all workers.
“In the wealthiest nation on Earth, nobody who works full time should have to live in poverty,” said Obama at a White House event, joined by workers he said would benefit from higher wages.
Obama said it had been a year since he first asked Congress to raise the minimum wage and that he was left with no choice but to move ahead with executive action. The president has vowed to use his “pen” and his “phone” to bypass Congress and move his agenda forward where lawmakers fail to act.
“We’ve got to make sure that the economy rewards hard work for every American,” said Obama, touting his action. “Making hard work pay off with economic security and decent wages and benefits is what we're about here today.”
Obama has made raising the minimum wage for all workers a centerpiece of his agenda to bolster the middle class and fight income inequality.
Business groups and conservative lawmakers oppose Obama's push to raise the minimum wage for all workers, saying that it will discourage small businesses from hiring and could jeopardize the already weak economic recovery.
But Obama painted the issue both as one of fairness and a way to bolster the economy.
“You've got too many Americans who are working harder than ever before just to get by, but they can't seem to get ahead, can't seem to make all the ends meet,” said the president.
“We've got to build an economy that works for everybody, not just the fortunate few. And we've got to restore opportunity for everybody so that no matter who you are, no matter how you started out, no matter what you look like, no matter what your last name is, you can get ahead in America if you're willing to work hard and take responsibility for your life,” he added.
The administration also launched a new website touting Obama’s economic initiatives in 2014, including new myRA investment accounts that the president says will encourage more Americans to begin saving for their retirement, new manufacturing innovation centers, a review of federal job training programs and assistance for the long-term unemployed.
Another new website, makes the economic case for raising the minimum wage nationwide, arguing that it will “increase earnings for millions of workers, and boost the bottom lines of businesses across the country.”
The GOP-controlled House, though, has failed to take up a bill that would raise the minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 an hour to $10.10.
Obama urged those in attendance to contact their lawmakers and press them to raise wages.
“I'm going to do what I can. Congress should do what it needs to do. I will not give up on this fight no matter how long it takes. America deserves a raise,” said the president.
It is unclear how many workers will benefit from the order, but White House press secretary Jay Carney said last month that the administration's “best guess … is a couple hundred thousand.”