My name is Karen Scharff. I am the Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York, a statewide grassroots organization that works for economic, racial and social justice. Thank you for the opportunity to speak today, and for your commitment to determining a fair wage for fast food workers.

Most New Yorkers are working harder than ever, just to get by. Our wages have been stuck in place for decades now. There are still more than two New Yorkers looking for work for every job opening. It is clear – the economy is not working for all of us. In fact, our State boasts the greatest inequality between the wealthiest and the rest of us.

But times aren’t tough for everyone: the rich are not only getting much richer, they are grabbing a bigger share of the wealth that we all helped to create.

It’s not that the economy didn’t move forward over the past 30 years. If corporations had shared our nation’s economic progress fairly with their employees, the average family would take home $23,000 more a year than they do now. The minimum wage would be more than $18 an hour.

But they didn’t. Instead, powerful corporations cut our wages and benefits. And they bankrolled lobbyists and candidates – so they can keep their tax rates lower than their secretaries, and the wages they pay their workers lower than the poverty level.

This pattern is especially egregious in the fast food industry. The average CEO in fast food earned nearly $24 million in 2013, while the average fast food worker earns less than $16,000 per year.  CEO salaries quadrupled from 2000 to 2013 while fast food workers’ wages went up less than 1/3 of 1%.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You have the opportunity now to start to create an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy and well connected, by raising the wages of some of the lowest paid New Yorkers. Fast food workers.

The big business lobby argues that raising the minimum wage for fast food workers will hurt small business and cost jobs. In fact, numerous studies – based on real minimum wage increases across the country not made up economic models – show that increases in the minimum wage will not cause employers to eliminate jobs. Instead, it will increase consumer demand, which will create more jobs. Hard-working New Yorkers will have a little more money to spend and local businesses will benefit from it. It’s a win-win for everybody.

That’s because working families and the middle class are the engines of the economy. It’s not the stock market or corporate profits or $24 million annual CEO salaries that make the economy work for people. When we have good jobs, we can educate our kids, care for our families, afford health care, shop in our own neighborhoods and retire in security, we move the economy forward.

Making work pay, with good jobs so all workers can support and care for their families with dignity is the first step toward economic prosperity for all of us. It is impossible to support a family on New York’s current minimum wage.  From Niagara Falls to Hempstead and every place in between, New York’s fast food workers are paid too little to meet the basics, struggling to put food on the table, pay rent, get to work.  As you have heard today, this is the daily reality for fast food workers in the state with the greatest concentration of wealth in the nation. It must end.

So let’s get it done. Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all fast food workers across New York State.  That will be a start to replacing economy busting jobs with economy boosting jobs, with jobs that lift workers out of poverty and enable them to take care of and support their families, to build a better future for their children.

It’s time to make the Empire State a leader again for working families and the middle class.

It’s time for a New York that works for all of us!