The executive order signed Wednesday increases the minimum wage, in stages, to $10.10 per hour for workers hired under new contracts or those up for renewal. It does not affect current contracts.
"Raising the minimum wage is good for workers and it's good for business and it's good for the economy," Obama said at an executive order signing ceremony at the White House.
"Not only is it good for the economy, it's the right thing to do," he said.
"In the wealthiest nation on earth, nobody who works full time should have to live in poverty. Nobody," he said.
The president also said his signature was part of a pledge made during his State of the Union address to make 2014 a year of action.
The president told a White House audience he'd prefer to work with Congress but is signing the executive order "while congress decides what it's going to do."
The order is to take effect Jan. 1, 2015, when it will apply to new federal contracts or contracts up for renewal.
The White House said raising the minimum wage will boost productivity, as higher wages reduce employee absenteeism. In addition, it would guarantee that no family of four will have to raise a child in poverty if one of the family members is working full time, the White House said.
The administration will press ahead with efforts to pass the Harkin-Miller bill aimed at raising the federal minimum wage overall to $10.10 per hour, after which it would be linked to inflation.
Minimum wage workers have not had a raise in seven years, which means, adjusted for inflation, the real value of minimum wage "is roughly the same as what it was in the 1950s, despite the fact that the typical American family's income has doubled since then," the White House statement said.
One full time worker earning minimum wage at a full time job makes $14,500 a year, "which leaves too many families struggling," the White House said.