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Aetna gives lowest-wage employees a raise as economy improves

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(Bloomberg) — Aetna Inc. (NYSE:AET) is boosting the pay for its lowest-earning employees, joining companies like Starbucks Corp. and Gap Inc. in raising wages as the growing U.S. economy leads to a tighter job market.

About 5,700 employees in areas such as customer service and billing will get a minimum of $16 an hour starting in April, Cynthia Michener, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. The company also plans to cover more health-care costs for 7,000 workers beginning next year, she said.

The move is a sign that pressure is growing on employers to increase wages as the labor market gets more active. The U.S. jobless rate fell to 5.6 percent in December, the lowest level since June 2008, though wages dropped 0.2 percent from the previous month. Earnings increased 1.7 percent from a year earlier.

See also: Consumer sentiment in U.S. rises to almost 8-year high.

“We are making a significant investment in our employees intended to increase their financial security,” Michener said. “As health care moves to a consumer industry, Aetna is investing in the employees who interact with our customers every day.”

Starbucks said in October it will give workers a raise this month in all U.S. markets. Gap announced plans almost a year ago to boost hourly pay. The Wall Street Journal reported on Aetna’s decision earlier today. Many of the affected employees were said to be earning $13 to $15 per hour.

The minimum wage was due to rise in almost half of U.S. states Jan. 1, though attempts at a nationwide boost have languished in Congress.

See also: 6 tips to help small biz reduce minimum wage hike impacts.