Wal-Mart wage hike may be economy's missing link

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When the biggest retailer in the world talks wages, other companies are going to listen.

Wal-Mart's shock announcement Thursday that it is going to begin increasing the minimum wage for its employees sparked hopes that a movement toward higher pay for those at the the lower rungs would gain momentum.

If so, that would generate long-awaited wage inflation, the lack of which has been a main contributor to the lackluster post-recession economic recovery in the U.S., the worst since the Great Depression.

"What Wal-Mart has done today is set the new benchmark for employee pay for big-box stores," said retail expert Brian Sozzi, CEO and chief equities strategist at Belus Capital Advisors.

"If you're a teenager working in an Abercrombie & Fitch and getting paid minimum wage, it might be cooler to work at a Wal-Mart, where you get training and a higher pay," he added. "It could not only spread to the big-box retailers, but also spread throughout the mall."

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In terms of direct economic impact, the move doesn't carry a lot of actual dollar weight. The company, which employs 1.3 million in the U.S. alone, plans to boost its minimum pay to $9 an hour by April and $10 an hour by Feb. 1, 2016. The current federal standard is $7.25.