Although the $15 minimums would bring these cities' wages up to more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, policymakers built in a gradual phase-in in each case to minimize the disruption to companies' balance sheets.
Economists who support raising the minimum wage tend to agree that such gradual steps are necessary, but the long lead time dangles the prospect of a living wage in front of low-wage workers years before they can actually attain it.
"Making sure wages align with affordability is a "moving target," Stenger said.
This can generate cynicism, as low-wage workers wonder if the prospect of financial relief will ever come.
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"What you're tapping into is a lot of discontent in a lot of the working population," Milkman said.
"It probably won't even be better because the more the minimum wage goes up, the more people raise prices," Davenport said.
Overall, economists say this isn't the case. "Low-wage employment does not constitute a big part of the cost that goes into the cost of living," said Gary Burtless, a labor economist at the Brookings Institution. "If the increase in the minimum wage is only moderate, then we're not really talking about a big effect on the U.S. price index," he said.
Businesses that depend on an army of low-wage workers are most likely to raise prices, Burtless said, and some of these — think fast-food restaurants — are the type of places that are highly visible and heavily visited in low-income neighborhoods, which could make higher prices following a minimum wage increase seem more prevalent than they are.
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What's more, the semantics of being a minimum-wage worker are demoralizing. "It's not fair that I have to wash behinds and clean up houses...and I get paid the same as a fast food [worker]," Davenport said.
"Like it or not, we link up the dignity of our work with the amount of money we make," Stenger said. "If I'm making the same amount of money that everybody doing the least, [most] menial job is making … that kind of defines my job as less than what it was."