market forces

Even Biden Says Restaurants Need to Pay Better

President Joe Biden smiling on a stage.
Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

It is well established at this point that restaurants across the country are having trouble hiring, a fact frequently blamed on enhanced unemployment benefits supposedly incentivizing would-be employees not to work. But on Wednesday, President Joe Biden floated another possible solution to this problem: Pay people a living wage.

A lot of restaurant workers have “decided that they don’t want to do that anymore because there’s other opportunities at higher wages, because there’s a lot of openings now, jobs,” the president said at Wednesday’s CNN Town Hall, responding to a question from restaurant owner John Lanni about how his administration intended to, in Lanni’s words, “incentivize those that haven’t returned to work yet.”

Biden’s sympathies were somewhat limited. “God love you for doing what you do, but all kidding aside, I think it really is a matter of people deciding now that they have opportunities to do other things,” he said, before cutting to the chase.

“My guess is that people paying seven, eight dollars an hour plus tips, that’s — I think, John, you’re going to be finding 15 bucks an hour or more now,” Biden said, Bidenly. “You may pay that already.” In other words: Seven or eight dollars plus tips (the tipped minimum wage in Ohio is $4.40) won’t cut it anymore.

It’s true that a lot of would-be restaurant workers are making more through enhanced unemployment than they did working in restaurants — but, as career waiter Mack Harden pointed out on Grub last month, that’s less an indictment of the benefits than of the jobs themselves. “Nobody chooses to live like this instead of going to a good-paying, reliable job,” he wrote. The problem is that even before the pandemic, many of these jobs weren’t — and money was never the only problem. “Workers are staying away because the industry has never treated them with respect,” argues Harden, “and if restaurateurs expect to change nothing and return to a time when they could count on a huge stack of résumés from highly skilled individuals who would put up with all manner of abuse for meager pay, they are mistaken.”

Even Biden Says Restaurants Need to Pay Better