Like tens of thousands of others in Arkansas, and millions whose states this year enacted pay increases, Tippen has found herself caught in the reality of America’s fiery debate on whether to raise the minimum wage. While politicians frame the discussion in bold terms — a ticket to the middle class; a death knell for small businesses — Tippen’s experiences reflects a more realistic picture: a slight help for poor workers, but not the game-changer that politicians promise.

Even after the quarter-per-hour increase, Tippen’s modest stack of bills still exceeds her income by $200 monthly. Businesses all around Tippen, including the fast food joints she sometimes visits, have nudged up prices to cover the increased labor costs, business owners say. While some states are increasing their lowest wages, President Obama said in the State of the Union he wants to raise the federal minimum to give the “hardest-working people in America a raise.” Still, if Congress authorizes the hike — a potential giant leap forward, from $7.25 to $10.10 — some small business owners in Pine Bluff say they won’t survive.

“At $10.10, we probably wouldn’t be here anymore,” said Steven Horton, owner of SavUMore Discount Foods, just down the road from the Days Inn.