By Christian Wade | The Center Square
Democratic lawmakers and advocates for the working poor want to raise New Hampshire’s minimum wage, but the move faces pushback from business groups who say it will cost jobs and hurt the state’s economy.
One proposal, HB 517, would raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour over three years.
“New Hampshire needs a raise, desperately,” state Rep. Kris Schultz, D-Concord, the bill’s primary sponsor, told members of the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee during a live-streaming hearing Thursday. “We are a wealthy state, but over 130,000 people make less than $15 an hour.”
New Hampshire currently does not have a state minimum wage. It defaults to the current federal rate of $7.25, which was last increased in 2009.
Schultz called that “irresponsible and inhumane” and said upping the wage would lift more Granite Staters out of poverty.
“Low-wage workers put money into the local economy and entrepreneurship goes up,” she told the committee.
Another proposal, HB 107, would more than triple the state’s minimum wage to $22.50 within 60 days of the bill’s approval.
Rep. Catherine Sofikitis, D-Nashua, one of the bill’s main sponsors, said workers earning minimum wage can’t afford to pay rent, buy food or cover medical bills amid the pandemic.
Labor leaders say businesses have been taking advantage of New Hampshire’s low taxes and wages to the detriment of workers, as well as the state government.
“I’m frankly outraged by how many companies are exploiting workers and the state,” said Rick Gulla, president of the State Employees’ Association, SEIU Local 1984.
But business groups say the move would hurt workers because companies would end up hiring fewer people and reducing wage hours to offset the increased payroll costs.
“Fewer jobs will be available, and fewer hours will be available, and there will be fewer businesses,” Bruce Berke, state director of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, told the legislative panel.
Several Republicans on the labor committee expressed skepticism that raising the minimum wage would help the state’s workers.
“It would end up hurting the people it means to help,” Rep. Greg Hough, R-Laconia, said.
President Joe Biden, who took office on Jan. 20, is pushing to increase the federal rate to $15 an hour as part of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal.
But that proposal also faces headwinds in Congress, where even some Democrats have pushed back on the idea of including a wage hike in the relief package.