Joe Biden's Actually Good Answer on Wages

Joe Biden’s CNN town hall last night was a mixed bag. There’s only so much the man can say. He’s in charge of a government in virtual deadlock and heads a divided political party. Even majorities (albeit slim) in both houses of Congress hasn’t been enough to push his agenda forward. Biden passed major COVID-19 relief at the beginning of his term, but his grand ideas are stalled for the time being. Some of them aren’t even in his purview anymore (*cough*canceling student debt*cough*).

Congressional gridlock didn’t stop Biden from taking questions from adoring CNN town hall attendees, though. And it certainly didn’t stop him from delivering this actually good answer on paying service industry workers more money. A restaurant owner named John stepped up and asked the somewhat tired question you’ve likely heard a lot lately: how to I get people back to work? Government benefits are just too good for people to get off their lazy butts and take service industry jobs. It’s a weary narrative that lays the blame at the feet of workers rather than employers. It’s also got a simple answer: pay people better wages and they’ll come work for you.

It took Biden a minute, but eventually he got there.

“I think it really is a matter of people deciding now that they have opportunities to do other things,” Biden says. “Because there’s a shortage of employees, people are looking to make more money and to bargain.” After a little more back-and-forth with CNN anchor Don Lemon, who asks if there’s any other way Biden can help the questioner out, the president points out that his relief bill relied on taxpayers to help revive the hospitality industry. Toward the end, though, he cuts more to the chase. “My guess is that people paying seven, eight dollars an hour plus tips … I think, John, you’re gonna be finding 15 dollars an hour or more.”

It’s not breakthrough messaging from Biden, but it’s significant nonetheless. Competitive wages will always drive employment. It’s important to break the narrative that people aren’t working because they’re lazy, but because they’re not being paid livable wages. It’s good that the chief executive understands that and is willing to say it on live television, even tacitly. It was somewhat cryptic from Biden, too. He’s almost implying he might try to push $15 a federal minimum wage at some point, although we know how that turned out last time. I guess we’ll just have to see what his gut tells him.

Biden’s town hall wasn’t all great, of course. The term “mixed bag” implies some screw ups, and there were a few. But one major moment stuck out—a roughly thirty second-long verbal lapse as Biden was answering a question about vaccinations for children. He eventually got himself back on track, but the stumbling pause was difficult to watch. These cringeworthy moments seem like an inevitably with Biden in office. The question is how frequently we’ll see them and how troubling they seem. Having Biden make public appearances is vital, especially now. Lapses like these are part of the game, for better or worse. But they’re slightly more palatable if he keeps saying good stuff around them.

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