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Minimum wage debate resonates in Ohio

On the streets of Columbus, Ohio, battle lines are being drawn in the fight over the minimum wage.  NBC's Lisa Daniels reports.

On the streets of Columbus, battle lines are being drawn in the fight over the minimum wage.

At 6 a.m., Celeste Molina is just coming off the graveyard shift, making $6.25 an hour at a local gas station.

"The price of living is so outrageous now, you have to make ends meet," she says.

Molina makes more than the federal minimum wage of $5.15, but she says $13,000 a year isn't enough to care for two young children.

"Every penny counts," she says. "It all matters. Sometimes it's just that small amount that you're short on your bill, and it makes that difference."

It's been a decade since Congress raised the minimum wage. Since then, 21 state legislatures have made their own increases, but Ohio has not. And here in Columbus, some workers feel that a raise is long overdue.

Alan Dawson is one of them. Like many, his pay is tied to the minimum wage. He gets $1 more — $6.15 an hour — flipping burgers at Wendy's.

"I'm a hard worker," he says. "I get up every morning from 7 to 2 and I work hard. I give my superiors 100 percent each time. I'm there, and I feel like for that, I'm worth a couple extra dollars."

It's not that business owners don't want to pay workers those extra dollars, but one restaurant owner fears raising the minimum wage will have a ripple effect among his employees.

"If they are at $7.50 an hour now, they are going to be excited about this, because they think that they are going to be at $9 an hour," says Michael Mastracci, the general manager of Elevator Brewery & Draught Haus.

And that could force businesses to lay off workers — or worse

"If my cost of labor goes up, I have to cut some people," says Thom Coffman, who owns the restaurant Thom's on Grandview.

Most economists have long believed a minimum wage hike would mean huge job losses, but Princeton economist Alan Krueger says not necessarily.

"Looking at a wealth of information, I reached the opposite conclusion, that increases in the minimum wage have little if any impact on employment," he says.

Congress may take up the minimum wage debate when it returns next month. Until then, the fight is lively, and local.