One was Taleya Ewell, 19, who said she skipped a shift at a South Philadelphia Popeye's. Ewell said she earns $7.25 an hour at the restaurant - both the Pennsylvania and U.S. minimum - and isn't given a break during a seven-hour shift unless she clocks out.
"They take 15 minutes out of our pay for a break," she said.
Other workers at the protest said they made little more than minimum even as "crew trainers" - employees who direct others in procedures but aren't classified as managers.
Alisha Lee, 30, of North Philadelphia, said she earns $9.45 an hour as a full-time crew trainer at a Bensalem McDonald's, up from $8.25 an hour when she started five years ago. She was off Thursday but said she came downtown to support the strikers.
Lee said that after paying for basics such as rent, transportation, and phone service, she has little left from her biweekly paycheck to put aside for unusual expenses.
"I have no dependents, but at the end of the day I'm left with $50 to my name," Lee said. "It's a little bit of a struggle if you don't have anybody in your corner helping you."
Other protesters said they struggled to support children on wages that are at or near the minimum and that have mostly lagged inflation. In 2014 dollars, the federal minimum wage topped $9 for much of the 1960s and '70s, according to an Oregon State University analysis.
"I'm 33. Where's my American dream?" asked Angela Owens, who said she earns less than $12 an hour working 45 hours a week as a home health assistant even with a bachelor's degree and credit toward a master's.
"I need $15 an hour so I can get off public assistance," said Owens, who has three children and hopes to become a social worker. "I want $15 an hour so I can have a better life."