President Joe Biden was asked on Wednesday at a CNN town hall by a restaurant owner hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic what he plans to do to incentivize people to return to the workforce. Biden was curt at first, telling the owner that “we kept you open” and later explained people are “looking to change opportunities.”

“We spent billions of dollars to make sure restaurants could stay open,” Biden told CNN host Don Lemon. “And a lot of people who now — who worked as waiters and waitresses decided that they don’t want to do that anymore because there was other opportunities at higher wages, because there’s a lot of openings now in jobs and people are beginning to move, beginning to move.”

“There’s some evidence that maintaining the ability to continue to not — to not have your — have to pay your rent so you don’t get thrown out and being able to provide for unemployment insurance has kept people from going back to work,” Biden said. “There’s no — 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.”

LEMON:  Welcome back, everyone. We are live at a CNN town hall in Cincinnati, Ohio, with the president of the United States. 
 
Straight to the audience for questions. This is John Lanni. He is the owner and co-founder of a restaurant group with 39 restaurants across the country, Mr. President. He is a Republican. John?
 
BIDEN:  Hey, John. 
 
QUESTION:  Hey there, Mr. President. Thank you for taking my question tonight. 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 as we try to restart our restaurant business. 
 
The entire industry, amongst other industries, continue to struggle to find employees. 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. 
 
BIDEN:  Well, two things, one, if you noticed, we kept you open. We spent billions of dollars to make sure restaurants could stay open. And a lot of people who now — who worked as waiters and waitresses decided that they don’t want to do that anymore because there was other opportunities at higher wages, because there’s a lot of openings now in jobs and people are beginning to move, beginning to move. 
 
There’s some evidence that maintaining the ability to continue to not — to not have your — have to pay your rent so you don’t get thrown out and being able to provide for unemployment insurance has kept people from going back to work. There’s no — 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. 
 
My deceased wife’s father-in-law was a restauranteur up in Syracuse, New York. And, by the way, he tried to — he had a restaurant that was in a town called Auburn, about 20,000 people, which was a flagship 24-hour-a-day restaurant that — and he offered it to me, which I would have been making five times what I would in law school to try to keep me in Syracuse. But I spent too many times at home hearing — in his home hearing a phone call, “The cook didn’t come in? He’s in a fight with his wife? What’s going on?”
 
QUESTION:  Exactly. 
 
BIDEN:  So I would — God love you, doing what you do. 
 
QUESTION:  It’s tough.
 
BIDEN:  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. People are looking to make more money and to bargain. And so I think your business and the tourist business is really going to be in a bind for a little while. 
 
And one the things — we’re ending all of those things that are things keeping people back from going back to work, et cetera. It will be interesting to see what happens. But my gut tells me, my gut tells me that part of it relates to, you know, you can make a good salary as a waiter or waitress. 
 
One of my sister in laws is — of five sisters makes a very good salary. She works in Atlantic City. That’s where she’s from. But it is — there’s a lot of people who are looking to change their occupation. I think. But I could be wrong. 
 
LEMON:  Well, let me ask you, because 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. 
 
BIDEN:  Well, John, first of all, I — you know, the thing we did to help John and the 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. 
 
(APPLAUSE)
 
And we should. We should have done that, as we did for other industries. But, secondly, John, my guess is that people being $7, $8 an hour plus tips, that’s — I think, John, you’re going to be finding $15 bucks an hour or more now. And — but you may pay that already. You may pay that already. 
 
(APPLAUSE)
 
LEMON:  Well, let me ask you, because everywhere I go, there isn’t a pretty much a shop in my town, a restaurant or whatever, where there isn’t a for hire sign. We tried to check into the hotel. They couldn’t get the rooms cleaned fast enough because they can’t find staff. You mentioned something, you said we’re going to end the things that may be keeping people back. Do you think that’s the unemployment benefits expanded?
 
BIDEN:  Well, that was argued it was. I don’t think it did much. But the point is, it’s argued that, because the extended unemployment benefits kept people — they’d rather stay home and not work than go to work.
 
LEMON:  You don’t think it did that? 
 
BIDEN:  I see no evidence it had any serious impact on it. But you can argue it. 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 going to 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 made less than $15 — you got good restaurants, that means their tips are good, people make a lot more than just what the minimum wage — what the wage is being paid, if you put tips on top of it. 
 
But, folks, look, here’s the deal. Think about it. You know, if you have — for example, I want to be able to — one of my programs is to make sure that we have four more years of school that’s free, two years for 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds, because it’s demonstrated that that increases significantly success. 
 
(APPLAUSE)
 
And community college. Well, those folks are not likely to want to go and be waiters. There’s nothing wrong with being a waiter or waitress. My family’s been engaged in that business. But the folks is — and, lastly, if you make less than $15 bucks an hour working 40 hours a week, you’re living below the poverty level. You’re living below the poverty level. 
 
(APPLAUSE)
 
LEMON:  Well, I want to continue on and talk about — this has to do with infrastructure, because you got applause when you mentioned the bridge earlier.