NEW YORK — Walmart, America’s largest private employer, said Tuesday it would raise its minimum wage from $12 to $14 an hour in an effort to retain store and warehouse workers in a tight labor market for lower-wage industries.

Walmart has 1.7 million employees in the United States, 94% of whom are hourly, according to its most recent annual securities filing. The company has hired hundreds of thousands of workers during the Covid-19 pandemic to meet high consumer demand for produce and other goods.

In many regions of the country, especially southern states that have not passed higher wage laws, Walmart’s starting salary often serves as the local minimum wage. The move by the company is likely to have a ripple effect across the services industry.

Walmart has been criticized by labor groups for decades for its low pay, but it has been raising wages in recent years. Its latest move will close the gap on Amazon, Target, Costco and other competitors. Amazon and Target have a minimum wage of $15, while Costco starts at $17 an hour.

Walmart’s wage hike reflects pressure on the chain to raise pay in the battle for jobs. Walmart is trying to keep up with competitors as well as cities and states that are raising minimum wages. Since 2009, the federal minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour. Washington state has the highest minimum wage in the country at $15.74.

While dozens of companies, including Walmart, have laid off corporate staff in recent months, demand for service workers remains high. Walmart currently has nearly 30,000 store openings listed on its hiring website.

The number of job openings totaled 10.5 million in November, according to the latest Labor Department data, which is very high by historical standards and far more than the 6 million unemployed who looked for work that month. More than 1 million jobs were opened in the field of retail trade.

“The job market remains competitive, especially at this level. Hourly workers are still hard to come by, and companies continue to compete for them by raising wages,” Andy Challenger, SVP, Challenger, Gray. & Christmas, the email said.

Walmart US chief John Ferner said Tuesday at a memo that the company’s wage increase “will ensure that we are paid attractively in the markets in which we operate.”

The company’s move also comes as many low-wage workers need higher wages to cope with rising food, housing and other inflationary pressures.

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