At a presidential town hall hosted by CNN on Wednesday, Joe Biden scoffed at a restaurant owner who said he was facing problems with hiring workers, telling the businessman that people simply do not want to work in his industry.
The Ohio restaurant owner, John Lanni, who employs hundreds of workers, told the president that his company is hiring, and he wants to know how the Biden administration will encourage Americans to return to work.
Lanni noted that industries across the country, especially in the food service industry, are facing a labor shortage.
Biden began his response by telling Lanni that it was the government that kept his restaurants in business despite the pandemic: “One, if you noticed, we kept you open. We spent billions of dollars to make sure restaurants could stay open.”
Biden then told Lanni that “a lot of people who now work as waiters and waitresses decided that they don’t wanna do that anymore because there’s other opportunities with higher wages.”
After a rambling response, including anecdotes about his deceased wife’s father’s restaurant, Biden said, “All kidding aside, I think it really is a matter of people deciding now that they have opportunities to do other things.”
His response provided no solutions to Lanni’s problem, prompting CNN anchor Don Lemon to repeat the question to Biden. “John is looking to hire people,” Lemon said. “He’s got 39 restaurants across the country. Is there anything you can do to help him out? I mean, he’s got to get people in.”
Biden suggested that Lanni increase his wages to solve the problem: “My guess is that people paying 7, 8 dollars an hour plus tips, that’s — I think, John, you’re going to be finding 15 bucks an hour or more now. You may pay that already.”
Lanni told the Cincinnati Enquirer that employees at his restaurants typically earn more than $15 an hour.
Biden’s comments align with those of other Democrats, who have blamed the labor shortage on businesses, claiming that the problem lies with their failure to offer adequate wages.
Republicans, meanwhile, have blamed the labor shortage on the Biden administration’s enhanced unemployment benefits and disruptions from lockdowns. Twenty-five GOP states, including Ohio, have cut off the enhanced unemployment benefits early to solve the labor shortage problem; the benefits are set to expire in September.
Deputy White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in May that there is “little evidence” that the enhanced unemployment benefits “are currently affecting Americans’ willingness to work.”
Lanni, a Republican, said he was dissatisfied with Biden’s response.
“I was hoping he would recognize it is every industry’s dilemma,” he told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “We are in a labor crisis and we need to find a way to incentivize people to get back to work. I just heard restaurants are going to have a hard road going forward and that we need to pay our workers more. That’s happening and it’s still not enough.”