By Richard Weizel
MILFORD, Connecticut (Reuters) - Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy plans to sign into law on Thursday a measure that will phase in the highest minimum wage of any U.S. state, in line with a national Democratic push to raise the entry-level wage.
The measure, which was approved by legislators a day earlier, would raise the state's minimum hourly rate to $10.10 per hour, a figure that matches what U.S. President Barack Obama has asked Congress to consider imposing nationally.
Malloy will sign the bill Thursday at 6 p.m. in the same New Britain diner, Café Beauregard in the heart of what is known as the "hardware city," 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 state's nearly $66,000
"This modest increase will give working families a boost, and it will contribute to our economy by getting just a little more money into the pockets of people who spend it in their communities," Malloy said following the bill's legislative approval late Wednesday.
Advocates of raising the minimum wage argue that doing so will improve the standard of living of working families and help to close the gap between the average earnings of men and women. Opponents warn that it could slow job creation or even lead companies to lay workers off at a time when the U.S. economy is struggling with high unemployment.
Obama's call for a higher national minimum has not gotten backing in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.
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 and Gunna Dickson)