By Richard Weizel
MILFORD, Connecticut (Reuters) - Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy on Thursday signed into law a measure that will phase in the highest minimum wage of any U.S. state, in line with a push by Democrats nationwide to raise the entry-level wage.
The bill, which was approved by state legislators a day earlier, will raise the state's minimum hourly rate to $10.10, a figure that matches what U.S. President Barack Obama has asked Congress to consider imposing nationally.
Malloy signed the legislation on Thursday evening in the same New Britain diner where he appeared earlier this month with Obama and three other New England governors: Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, Peter Shumlin of Vermont and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. All are Democrats who have pushed to raise the minimum wage in their states.
New Britain, located in the center of the state, has been hard hit by the economic downtown with the household median income at about $35,000, compared with the statewide median of
"This is just a step in moving people in the right direction," Malloy said in signing the bill. "We will be lifting people out of poverty in the state of Connecticut. Increasing the minimum wage is not just good for workers, it's also good for business," he added.
Connecticut's Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, also a Democrat, said: "Raising the minimum wage helps people who need it most, is good for the economy and is the right thing to do."
State House Republican spokesman Patrick O'Neil said his party opposed the measure because it does not believe the bill will help create jobs in a state with an unemployment rate of 7.2 percent, above the national average.
"This is just politics in an election year and isn't going to lift anyone out of poverty," O'Neil said.
"In Bridgeport, the state's largest city, there is a 50 percent unemployment rate among teens ages 16-19. If they can't get a job at $8.70 an hour, what will it be like when the rate goes up?" he said. "This is just going to cause employers who create jobs in the state to hire even fewer people."
Obama's call for a higher national minimum wage has failed to win the backing of the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.
The Congressional Budget Office said in a report released last month that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour nationally would reduce total employment by some 500,000 workers.
Connecticut's minimum wage currently stands at $8.70 per hour, and the bill will be phased in to $10.10 over three years. The current highest state minimum wage in the United States is Washington's $9.32, above the $7.25 federal minimum.
Malloy is up for re-election this year and state Republicans have called the measure a politically influenced move.
(Editing by Scott Malone, Gunna Dickson, Dan Whitcomb and Lisa Shumaker)