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Both sides in the fight over the minimum wage cite numerous studies to buttress their arguments about whether a raise would be harmful.
The petition signed by the economists says that for decades, research has "found that no significant effects on employment opportunities result when the minimum wage rises in reasonable increments." The economists also note that minimum-wage workers employed full time for the entire year earn $15,080, almost 20 percent below the poverty level for a family of three.
But Michael Saltsman, research director at the Employment Policies Institute, cites another study that he says found raising the minimum wage was counterproductive — with more people losing than gaining because hours were reduced and jobs were cut.
Tessie Harrell, one of the workers in the middle of this academic debate, walked off her job in protest last week.
As a Burger King manager in Milwaukee, Harrell, 34, has to stretch her $8.25 hourly salary to support five children (a sixth lives on her own). They live in a two-bedroom apartment. Her mother helped out financially and with child care, but she has since moved to a nursing home.
"It’s not like we’re teens working for a pair of shoes or a cell phone," Harrell says. "We’re grown adults who can’t find better jobs."
She would like to see something come from the protests, a wage improvement, even if it’s not $15 an hour.
"I hope it works," she says. "We’re just trying to survive and build a life for our children."
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