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At Costco Obama touts his plan to boost wages

By Darlene Superville & Nedra Pickler

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 08:52 a.m. HST, Jan 29, 2014

WEST MIFFLIN, Pa. >> President Barack Obama stood alongside Americans on the job Wednesday in a morning-after trip to promote his State of the Union proposals to boost personal finances of low-wage workers.

With much of the legislation in Congress stalled amid midterm politics, Obama said he would take what action he can with presidential powers. But he urged Congress to pass a minimum wage hike for more than the small number of federal contract workers he can help on his own. "It's time to give America a raise," Obama said.

About 12 hours after laying out his agenda before a joint session of Congress, Obama visited a Costco store in suburban Maryland to drive home the argument that businesses who pay higher wages can improve their bottom line. "I guarantee you if workers have a little more money in their pocket, they'll spend more at Costco," Obama said to applause from the workers surrounding him in blue and red vests.

Obama said entry-level Costco employees start at $11.50 an hour, with average wages more than $20 an hour before overtime. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25, but Obama wants Congress to raise it to $10.10.

"If you work hard, you should be able to pay your rent, buy your groceries, look after your kids," Obama said from inside the cavernous bulk warehouse, close to the produce section where consumers could buy large containers of green seedless grapes and plantains. He joked that he could use a 50-pound bag of dog food for Sunny and Bo and that he'd like an 80-inch flat screen for the Super Bowl.

Obama plans to sign an executive order in the coming weeks setting a $10.10 minimum wage for workers on new federal contracts, part of his vow to take executive action in his final years in office and circumvent the Congress that has deadlocked on most legislation amid partisan rancor. Maryland's Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley is pushing to raise the state's minimum wage to $10.10.

"Ultimately Congress does have to do its part to catch up to the rest of the country on this," Obama said.

Obama praised O'Malley's effort as Democrats intend to make the minimum wage hike a potent issue in a number of states with competitive governor's races this fall. One of the biggest fights could come in Pennsylvania, where GOP Gov. Tom Corbett is among the most vulnerable governors facing re-election and has signaled that he won't support raising the state's $7.25-an-hour minimum wage. Democrats are expected to make a similar push in states with incumbent Republicans like Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Obama later traveled to a U.S. Steel Corp. plant near Pittsburgh to tout more action he plans to take without Congress. He's directing the Treasury to create a new savings program geared toward those whose employers don't offer retirement plans -- about half of all U.S. workers, according to the White House.

The idea is to offer a "starter" account to let people start saving even if they can't afford the large initial investment often needed for a private, commercial retirement account. Savers can start with just $25, and could opt to have contributions of as low as $5 deducted automatically from their paychecks.

"We think this fills a space that, very importantly, we can do by our own authority," Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Pennsylvania. The idea is to encourage some of the millions of Americans who do not save for retirement to begin putting aside even small amounts of money. "When people start saving they get into the habit of saving," he said.

Dubbed "myRA," the program will operate like a Roth IRA, so contributions to the plan will be made with after-tax dollars. That means account-holders could withdraw the funds at any time without paying additional taxes. The funds would be backed by U.S. government debt, similar to a savings option available to federal employees.

Initially a pilot program, the accounts should be available through some employers by the end of 2014, the White House said. Investors can keep the accounts if they switch jobs or convert them into private accounts.

It's a tradition for presidents to travel after delivering their annual address to Congress, pitching grand legislative goals for the year ahead. Vice President Joe Biden amplified Obama's message with a round of television interviews and a speech at a community college in New York state.

On Thursday, Obama will visit a General Electric gas engines facility in Waukesha, Wis., not far from Milwaukee. He'll also speak at a high school in Nashville, Tenn.

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Uncleart66 wrote:
Did he stop at Costco in Hawaii Kai?
on January 29,2014 | 07:53AM
thepartyfirst wrote:
What is he doing campaigning? Why isn't he in DC working with other elected officials to make America better? Albeit he said he will not negotiate with them. That's treason according to the Constitution.
on January 29,2014 | 08:57AM
Solara wrote:
He's working on his dictatorial skills.
on January 29,2014 | 12:05PM
2NDC wrote:
What he fails to mention is that Costco is a Union shop. Wages are higher because the workers pay more. Union dues, healthcare, etc. are taken out of that $11.50/hr.
on January 29,2014 | 08:11AM
primowarrior wrote:
Are the Costco stores in Hawaii unionized? The employees at Costco always seem to be more on the ball than at other big box stores.
on January 29,2014 | 08:55AM
Solara wrote:
No, I don't think they are unionized.
on January 29,2014 | 12:05PM
serious wrote:
Costco is not unionized. A few are but the majority no--that's why the companies are making money. The President, as usual is ill informed--take the new IRA he's proposing--the money will be invested by the Government--isn't that great???
on January 29,2014 | 12:31PM
Pocho wrote:
Like Ben Jay, President Obama is dreaming people should be able to live off minimum wages.
on January 29,2014 | 08:13AM
Readitnow wrote:
Minimum wages are not supposed to be enough to support a family. It was designed to be a starting wage in transition jobs. If you're good at that job, then management can decide to pay you more to keep you working there.
on January 29,2014 | 09:28AM
SandBar wrote:
Give it up. The ones that can't understand that are those who earning minimum wage.
on January 29,2014 | 10:43AM
aomohoa wrote:
Costco is so successful because they never make more than a 15% profit on anything. People know they are getting a good product for a good price. Wouldn't the country be in better shape if it was run as efficiently? LOL
on January 29,2014 | 08:25AM
Solara wrote:
Well, that's a novel idea. Cap your profit, sell in bulk and let people know they are getting the best deal possible from you. Be as transparent about your expenses as well. If all businesses were run that way, the cost of living would plummet. Wouldn't that be a dream?
on January 29,2014 | 12:07PM
DAGR81 wrote:
Still a community organizer...not a President.
on January 29,2014 | 08:28AM
false wrote:
more like community agitator. always trying to pit one class against another. sad excuse of a man, much less the leader of the free world...
on January 29,2014 | 09:04AM
false wrote:
When does the constant campaigning stop?!
on January 29,2014 | 09:07AM
lee1957 wrote:
November 2016.
on January 29,2014 | 10:34AM
cojef wrote:
More like November 2014, since he will be a real "lame duck" President. Also since when did raising the minimum wage rate will create jobs. We need jobs, what good is pay if there are no jobs? Spending his time on the wrong things is his mantra. Priorities all out of kilter. Keystone pipeline will create high paying construction jobs that unions should appreciate. However, he is stuck with everything green, the environmentalists hero.
on January 29,2014 | 11:36AM
MakaniKai wrote:
Just about everyone begins at minimum wage (I did) it is entry level for most and is not intended to support one’s self or family. I am sick and tired of this “equal” “fair” Bull Sh i t. I have received a formal education and accrued job / life experience therefore earning a higher living wage. Dis guy is in la la la land and does not understand basic economics! Uggg!
on January 29,2014 | 12:13PM
fairgame947 wrote:
Costo pays their employees pretty well. To raise to his desired wage, it puts huge pressure on small businesses. Often times what will happen is a cutting of full time employees to part time to save on benefits. It sounds good "let's raise the minimum wage" but not often are the consequences of such well thought out.
on January 29,2014 | 02:54PM
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