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President Biden told a restaurant owner at an Ohio town hall Wednesday night that he would likely struggle to hire new employees for the next few months before expanded federal unemployment benefits run out — unless he paid them more.

The restaurateur, who identified himself as John Lanni, a Republican, asked Biden during the CNN event in Cincinnati: “We employ hundreds of hard-working team members throughout the state of Ohio and across the country, and we’re looking to hire more every day. How do you and the Biden administration plan to incentivize those that haven’t returned to work yet? Hiring is our top priority right now.”

“Two things,” Biden responded. “One, if you noticed, we kept you open. We spent billions of dollars to make sure restaurants can stay open, and a lot of people who now — who work as waiters and waitresses 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. People are beginning to move … There’s not much distinction between not going back to work in a restaurant and not going back to work at a factory. So people are looking to change opportunities, change what they’re doing.

US President Joe Biden participates in a CNN Town Hall hosted by Don Lemon (R) at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio, July 21, 2021.
President Biden told the restaurant owner that workers are looking to get paid more money.
AFP via Getty Images

“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, and there’s a shortage of employees,” the president continued.

“People are looking to make more money and to bargain, and so I think your business and the tourist business is really gonna be in a bind for a little while.”

CNN host and town hall moderator Don Lemon later stepped in to ask Biden: “John is looking to hire people. 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.”

“First of all,” the president repeated, “the thing we did to help John and other Johns out, is provide billions of dollars to make sure they could stay open, number one. So, you all contributed to making sure John could stay in business, and we should have done that, as we did for other industries.

Cameras are visible in the foreground as President Joe Biden speaks at a CNN town hall at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati.
The federal unemployment benefits have been part of the reason unemployment has remained steady, though President Biden disagreed.
Andrew Harnik/AP

“But secondly, John, my guess is that people paying seven, $8 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.”

Expanded federal benefits has been blamed for the unemployment rate hovering around 6 percent since the start of the year. Currently, the unemployed are getting an extra $300 a week in federal benefits through Sept. 6, on top of state unemployment benefits averaging $338 per week.

The average of $638 per week in combined federal and state unemployment payments is the equivalent of $15.95 per hour for an employee working a 40-hour work week. Governors of 25 states, all of them Republicans, have sought to remedy the labor shortage by rejecting the extra $300 unemployment benefit.

President Joe Biden interacts with members of the audience during a commercial break for a CNN town hall at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati.
President Biden lauded his own administration’s spending to help out restaurants during the pandemic.
Andrew Harnik/AP

Biden has insisted that the expanded benefit has had little effect on the stubbornly high unemployment level, a position he restated Wednesday night.

“I see no evidence it had any serious impact on it,” he said. “But you can argue – let’s assume it did. It’s coming to an end. So it’s not like we’re in a situation where if that was it, and it ends, then we’re going to see John’s gonna have no problem. But what I think has happened, folks, is – look, if you make less than – and I’m not saying, John, your folks make less than 15 – if you’ve got good restaurants, that means the tips are good and people make a lot more than just what the wage is being paid.”

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