TJX Cos. said it would increase the minimum hourly wage of employees in 2,500 stores to $9, joining a growing number of US retailers raising the pay for workers at the lowest end of the pay scale.
TJX, which is based in Framingham and operates T.J. Maxx and Marshalls chains in 49 states, follows Walmart and Gap in boosting their pay well above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The minimum wage in Massachusetts rose to $9 an hour on Jan. 1.
The moves by the retailers is another sign that the benefits of the economic expansion are finally reaching workers as a tightening labor market requires companies to pay more to attract and retain workers, economists said. The US unemployment rate has fallen to 5.7 percent from 8 percent two years ago; the unemployment rate in Massachusetts is 5.5 percent.
Retailers, in turn, are benefiting from increased consumer spending, boosted by rising employment and falling energy prices. As a result, US retailers had nearly 600,000 job openings at the end of last year, the most since at least 2000, according to the Labor Department.
“T.J. Maxx has figured out there’s a special value to be placed on keeping their best employees,” said Douglas Handler, chief US economist for IHS Global Insight, a Lexington forecasting firm said. “Certainly Walmart’s activities have driven the idea to do a deeper analysis on what they should be paying employees.”
Nigel Gault, cochief economist at Parthenon, a Boston consulting firm, said minimum wage increases in some 20 states this year also have helped fuel the pay raises.
“There’s an upward wave here,” he said. “The floor for the lowest paid workers across the country is being pushed up. Good productive workers, in an improving labor market — those forces are all adding up to higher wages at the lower end.”
TJX, which announced the pay increase in its quarterly earnings report, said all employees with at least six months of experience would earn $10 by “sometime in 2016.” The company said that sales in the quarter that ended Jan. 31 rose about 6 percent and profit about 11 percent, compared to the same period a year ago.
“At TJX, we attribute our success over the last 38 years primarily to the people we have hired,” said Carol Meyrowitz, the chief executive, in a statement. She said the pay increase would help the company “remain competitive on wages in US markets.”
The retailer’s announcement comes a week after Walmart said it would boost minimum pay for 500,000 employees nationwide to $9 an hour by April and $10 an hour by February 2016. Clothing retailer Gap raised its minimum hourly wage to $9 last year and plans to boost it to $10 this year. Ikea, the Swedish furniture store chain, this year raised the minimum wage at its US locations to $10.76 a month.
TJX refused to disclose how many employees would be affected by its plan. The company also declined to disclose the average pay of its Massachusetts workers. Walmart says its Massachusetts workers earn an average of nearly $14 an hour.