America's largest employer, Walmart, will increase its national minimum wage for store associates to $14, a 17% increase intended to aid in retaining employees amid the tumultuous job market.

Starting in early March, Walmart's 1.7 million U.S. workers will begin to make between $14 and $19 an hour. Walmart hired hundreds of thousands of workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, 94% of which are hourly employees, in an effort to meet the growing consumer demand for groceries and other goods.

About 340,000 store employees will get a raise because of the move, Walmart spokeswoman Anne Hatfield told CNBC.

Walmart has been under pressure from unions, policymakers, and activists to raise the wages for workers in its stores for years. Its latest move will close the gap with competitors Amazon and Target, who both offer $15 minimum wages, and Costco, where employees start at $17 an hour.

Walmart U.S. chief John Furner said Tuesday in a memo that the company's wage hike will "ensure we have attractive pay in the markets we operate."

While weaker retail sales trends have prompted several companies to warn investors about a tougher year ahead, Walmart's move bucks that belief.

Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody's Analytics, an economic research firm, said he was surprised that Walmart had raised wages "so significantly" given the risks of a recession.

"It suggests that Walmart doesn't think the economy will suffer a recession anytime soon, or that if it does, it will be a short-lived and modest downturn," Mr. Zandi said in an email obtained by the New York Times.

Prominent tech companies, social media sites, and banks, including Google, Meta, and Goldman Sachs, have recently laid off thousands of employees, raising warning signs for the weary job market.

However, large retailers like Walmart have largely avoided resorting to staff cuts. Retail, compared with other industries, tends to have higher churn than other industries — allowing employers to manage their staffing rate by slowing the backfilling of jobs, said economist Gregory Daco to CNBC.

As costs for food and housing continue to rise, and inflationary pressures impact consumer spending, Walmart's move will provide many low-wage workers across the country with larger paychecks.