Massachusetts lawmakers are considering an increase in the state minimum wage for the first time in four years. They debated the issue Tuesday at a State House hearing on a bill to raise the minimum wage to $11 per hour by 2015. 

Hundreds of workers filled the State House auditorium for the hearing. One supporter, Patricia Federico, works at a cinema in Weymouth, earning $8.90 an hour.  She said it's barely enough to cover the necessities.

“There’s a lot of pressure and weight on you.  You’re constantly worrying about how you’re gonna get your next meal," she said. "Your next is worry is: are you going to be homeless?'”

Senate President Therese Murray supports raising the minimum wage, but she wouldn’t say by how much.

“You’re seeing people who are just not making it here, and the cost to you, the taxpayers, is going up and up because we’re subsidizing full time 40 or 60 hour-a-week workers because they’re not making what they need to make it in Massachusetts.”

One proposal before the legislature would gradually raise the minimum wage from $8 per hour to $11 dollars per hour over the next three years and index it to inflation.  More than 60 lawmakers have signed a petition calling for passage of the bill.  They say 580,000 workers would benefit directly.

But business groups representing retailers and the hotel industry are mounting an opposition to the bill. Jon Hurst, of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said Massachusetts businesses can’t afford a hike in this shaky economy.

“We already have one of the highest minimum wages in the country," Hurst said. "We’re seventh highest right now and we just want to make sure we don’t put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage versus the rest of the country.”

The Massachusetts minimum wage has been $8 per hour since 2008. The Bay State is one of 19 states that are above the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 per hour.  A number of states have raised their minimum wage in recent years.  And just last week, Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy signed a law increasing Connecticut’s minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2015.