Supporters of the Raise the Wage Act rallied on Thursday while announcing new initiatives aimed at potentially raising the minimum wage.

Kathy Staub of Raise Up New Hampshire described New Hampshire’s $7.25 per hour minimum wage, which has been in place since 2009, as “pathetic.”

“No one can survive on $7.25 an hour,” said Staub, including those people who live in New Hampshire or any other state in the country.

According to Staub, a survey of New Hampshire voters has found that nearly two-thirds of Granite Staters support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. Lobbyists, she maintained, are holding back the change.

“Pay people more,” Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and president of One Fair Wage told the crowd in attendance Thursday for the New Hampshire Women and the Economy Forum at Saint Anselm’s Institute of Politics.

The crowd was decked out in shirts that read, “Raise the wage voter,” and waved signs that stated, “Wages can’t wait.”

“We are so close,” said Jayaraman, explaining the U.S. House of Representatives previously supported the Raise the Wage Act, which has not been voted on by the U.S. Senate. She said Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen must help get this approved in Washington; both senators previously voted against the Raise the Wage Act.

While the minimum wage is low, Jayaraman said New Hampshire’s subminimum wage for tipped workers of $3.27 per hour “persists with this legacy of slavery.”

According to her, there are seven states with one full minimum wage and tips on top of that. All of those states have some of the highest rates of job growth in the restaurant industry, said Jayaraman, adding they also have some of the highest tipping averages as well.

One Fair Wage announced the launch of two new initiatives, including the Raise the Wage Voter Bloc, where voters can declare that they will turn out at the polls in 2022 for candidates who deliver on raising the minimum wage.

The second effort is a new Wages Can’t Wait Service Worker Action and Relief Fund of $1 million aimed to support struggling restaurant workers who are considering leaving the industry because of low tips and wages. The fund will provide financial relief and leadership training to help those workers stay in the service sector and keep pushing for reforms in the industry.

“We need to rescue our economy … now more than ever we need one fair wage,” said Kimberly Taliadouros, who is employed as a tipped restaurant worker in New Hampshire.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, tips have been lower, work has been harder and customers have expressed entitlement, she said. While Taliadouros loves the service industry, she said her work is not a labor of love — it is a job.

“We have lived through four decades of extreme inequality,” said Chuck Collins of the Patriotic Millionaires, a group seeking a guaranteed living wage.

There are business owners out there who are trying to take the high road and pay better wages, but they are competing with the “low road businesses,” said Collins, stressing that higher wage earners create less turnover and require less training expenses.

Others, including Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire (AFP-NH), are voicing concerns about raising the minimum wage both nationally and in the Granite State. Minimum wage laws create a barrier of entry for people who are young and first-time workers, reentering the workforce or finding employment after a criminal record, according to Greg Moore, state director at AFP-NH.

Raising wages could result in more automation by employers who are trying to find a way around the pay increases, said Moore, adding some businesses have already implemented kiosks for self ordering.

“Fewer jobs means that people won’t have the opportunity to get their foot in the door to start a career,” said Moore.

Instead of creating artificial barriers, a better approach is to focus on a strong economy that requires employers to chase employees, which will prevent potential workers from being boxed out, added Moore.

“I think most folks in the industry recognize that we are likely due for an increase in the minimum wage and agree that $7.25 is behind the times,” said Mike Somers, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association.

However, Somers stressed that many fast food restaurants are currently paying between $10 and $12 an hour, and that full service restaurants are paying around $15 an hour.

In general, Somers said there should be a movement to adjust the minimum wage and his group would like to be involved in those discussions to determine what would be appropriate and whether that would be $11, $12 or $15.

If this is pursued, he emphasized the importance of having any changes phased in over a period of three years.

“We just want to make sure there is some version of the tip wage that is kept in place,” added Somers.