Mr. McGirr, an independent, said the best way for workers to increase their wages was by getting more education.
But some studies and experts suggest that big-box retailers like Walmart and Kmart, whose customer base includes many low-income households, would reap higher revenue from an increase in the minimum wage.
A study by BigInsights Monthly Consumer Survey found that about one-fourth of Walmart's customers come from households earning less than $25,000 a year and nearly two-fifths from households earning less than $35,000. At Kmart, about a third of its customers have household incomes of less than $25,000, and nearly half receive less than $35,000. As for Target, a little more than a quarter of its shoppers have household incomes below $35,000.
Gregg W. Steinhafel, Target's chief executive, acknowledged recently that "lower- and middle-income households are shopping cautiously" because of "very tight household budgets." And Bill Simon, the head of Walmart's United States operations, noted that shoppers' "income is going down while food costs are not." Walmart's same-store sales in the United States slid three quarters in a row.
Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of the Strategic Resource Group, a retail consulting firm, said numerous factors were affecting retail sales, especially among discount stores. He said several chains had cut employees' hours so much that shelves were often poorly stocked, upsetting shoppers and pushing them to online shopping.
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"Employees," he added, "can often be an important shopping group for a store, especially during the holiday season. A lot of them are hurting financially, and that can hurt a store's sales."
Retailers and fast-food restaurants are facing a growing wave of protests as employees assert that wages of $7.50, $8 or $8.50 an hour are far too low to support themselves, much less a family. Fast-food workers held one-day strikes in more than 60 cities in August demanding raises to $15 an hour, and organizers hope to have walkouts in even more cities on Dec. 5.
Walmart and McDonald's have faced some embarrassing episodes over the issue of low pay.
News that a Walmart store in Canton, Ohio, was doing a food drive to ensure that its employees had enough for Thanksgiving went viral on the Internet. Walmart officials said the food drive was a laudable effort in which the company and its employees were banding together to help co-workers in need because of sudden hardship, like a divorce.
And last July, a McDonald's company website advising workers on how to budget, developed with the credit card giant Visa, was widely ridiculed on television and social media. It suggested that workers hold two jobs, did not include expenses for heating or child care, and anticipated payments of $20 a month for health insurance.
Last week, social media mocked another McDonald's internal website, which advised employees on how to live healthier and reduce stress. One suggestion was to sing to oneself, another was to break food into pieces, to feel fuller and perhaps stretch one's budget.
Alan B. Krueger, a Princeton economics professor who stepped down in August as chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, said an increase in the minimum wage would help ease weakness in consumer demand, a problem for the American economy since the recession hit in late 2007.
He pointed to a study by economists at the Federal Reserve in Chicago, which found that a dollar-an-hour increase would translate into a $700 increase in spending per quarter the year after enactment for each household with a minimum-wage earner. Nearly four million workers earn the minimum wage, but the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, estimates that wages for 30 million workers would be lifted if Congress approved an increase to $10.10 an hour. Mr. Krueger was co-author of a landmark study that found that a modest increase in the minimum wage did not result in hiring cutbacks.
"The U.S.," Professor Krueger said, "clearly faces the problem of weak aggregate demand, and this weakness has been aggravated by stagnant real wage growth of low-income families."
House Republicans have indicated they will block any increase in the minimum wage, arguing that it would cause businesses to cut back hiring and hurt companies' bottom lines.
Tyler Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason University, questioned whether raising the minimum wage would increase consumer demand.
"You'd have to consider how many people would be laid off as a result," he said. "I don't see the evidence that it would work out so well."
Professor Cowen said that increasing the earned-income tax credit would lift incomes and consumer demand, without resulting in less hiring.
—By Steven Greenhouse of The New York Times