By Richard Weizel
MILFORD, Connecticut (Reuters) - Connecticut's Democratic governor, Dannel Malloy, on Tuesday called for the state to raise its minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, matching President Barack Obama's call last month to raise the national minimum to that level.
The hike, from a current $8.70, would take effect in three years and push Connecticut's minimum wage higher than in any other U.S. state, including Washington, where the current minimum is $9.32, the highest in the nation.
The proposal comes at a time when Democratic politicians are raising concerns about the growing gap between the poorest and richest Americans, a major theme of Obama's State of the Union speech last week.
"There is a debate happening across our country on how to tackle the growing income inequality that is detrimental to our middle-class families and to our economy," said Malloy. "Part of tackling that critically important challenge is making sure we recognize that a good and decent wage is good for workers and good for business."
Malloy made his proposal in Bridgeport, the state's largest city, where the median household income hovers at $39,822 per year, well below the $69,519 state median.
Connecticut's minimum wage had been scheduled to rise to $9 next year. The federal minimum wage is $7.25.
Patrick O'Neil, a spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, called the proposal "pure politics in an election year."
"It is unsound economic policy that will not make anyone's life better," O'Neil said. "It's just more of the same Democratic rhetoric that we have heard time and again and does nothing to improve the economy."
The New England state, home to many commuter suburbs populated by wealthy Wall Street executives and home to some of the nation's largest companies, including General Electric Co and United Technologies Corp, is not alone in trying to raise wages. Neighboring New York and Rhode Island, as well as nearby New Jersey, hiked their minimum wages this year.
The Washington, D.C., city council late last year passed a measure raising its minimum wage to $11.50 per hour in 2016. Workers in Sonoma, California, have the highest entry pay rate, at $15.38 per hour.
A clear majority of Americans believe the income gap between the richest and poorest members of society is growing, with more than two-thirds of respondents reporting so in a Pew Research Center poll last month.
Out of Connecticut's work force 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
The proposal will be included in the governor's legislative package for the upcoming 2014 regular session of the General Assembly, which will begin on Thursday, delayed a day due to an impending snowstorm.
(Editing by Scott Malone, Dan Grebler and Gunna Dickson)