Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Conn. raises minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, highest in nation

The move comes as liberal politicians across the country have focused on raising low wages to combat income inequality

Connecticut's legislature on Wednesday approved a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, the highest statewide rate in the nation, following a call to action last month by Gov. Dannel Malloy.

The bill passed by a vote of 23-13 in the Senate and 87-54 in the House, mostly along party lines with Democrats approving the move and Republicans opposing it.

Malloy, a Democrat, said he plans on signing the bill at a ceremony in New Britain on Thursday.

"I am proud that Connecticut is once again a leader on an issue of national importance," Malloy said in a written statement following the bill's legislative approval.

"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," he said.

Malloy's push comes at a time when politicians across the United States, primarily Democrats, are raising concerns about the growing gap between the poorest and richest Americans.

On a visit to Connecticut earlier this month, President Barack Obama urged Congress to raise the federal minimum to the same $10.10 level, which has not received backing in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

"This sends a clear message to the working people in the state of Connecticut that the legislature understands the difficulty they have in doing basic things to live, and we are proud to lead the nation in moving the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour," said state Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield, chairman of the legislature's Labor Committee.

Connecticut's minimum wage currently stands at $8.70 per hour, and the bill would phase in the hike to $10.10 over three years. The current highest state minimum wage in the U.S. is Washington's at $9.32 per hour. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

Patrick O'Neil, a spokesman for the state's House Republican Caucus, has called the proposal "pure politics in an election year." Malloy is up for re-election in November.

The Washington, D.C. city council late last year passed a measure raising its own minimum wage to $11.50 per hour by 2016. Workers in Sonoma, California meanwhile have the highest entry pay rate of any municipality, at $15.38 per hour.

Out of Connecticut's workforce of 1.7 million people, economists estimate there are currently 70,000 to 90,000 workers who earn the minimum wage. Malloy's proposal means that an employee working 40 hours per week would earn $21,008 per year.

Currently, the federal poverty guideline for a family of four is $23,850.

Neighboring New York and Rhode Island, as well as nearby New Jersey, also increased the minimum wage this year.

Advocates of raising the minimum wage argue that it stimulates the economy since low-income people spend a higher percentage of their income, while opponents contend that it could slow hiring at a time that the U.S. economy is still facing high unemployment.

Wire services

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