Banking

Biden whispers the quiet part out loud on the labor shortage: ‘Pay them more!’

  • The solution to attracting workers is to simply “pay them more!” Biden whisper-shouted on Thursday.
  • Massive demand for workers gives Americans a new “bargaining chip” for earning higher pay, he added.
  • The comments come as businesses are hiking wages and offering incentives as they scramble to rehire.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The solution to the labor shortage is, according to President Joe Biden, as simple as a higher wage.

The president allayed a range of concerns around the economy during a Thursday press conference. Among them is the nationwide labor shortage, which has seen hiring slow despite millions of Americans still being unemployed. The shortage may be delaying a full labor-market recovery, but he told journalists at the White House there’s an easy solution.

“I remember you were asking me … ‘Guess what? Employers can’t find workers.’ I said, ‘Pay them more!'” the president said in his distinctive whisper-shout. 

The refrain has been popular with Biden as businesses rush to attract workers. The president said in May that the accelerating rate of wage growth was a “feature” and “not a bug” of the post-pandemic economy. Increased competition between employers gives Americans more “dignity and respect in the workplace,” he added.

“This is the employees’ bargaining chip now,” he said on Thursday. “[Employers] are going to have to compete and start paying hard-working people a decent wage.”

The president also eased fears that recent bouts of stronger inflation would hinder the recovery. The Consumer Price Index — a popular gauge of broad inflation — rose 0.6% in May, beating the median estimate of a 0.4% gain. The reading marked the fastest rate of price growth since 2009, but Biden assured the overshoot would soon fade.

“The overwhelming consensus is it’s going to pop up a little bit and then come back down,” he said.

The president’s comments were made during a press conference focused on the $1 trillion bipartisan deal for infrastructure spending that Biden had thrown his support behind earlier on Thursday. The plan includes funding for physical infrastructure like roads and bridges, as well as improved broadband access and public transit projects.

The package represents just half of the White House’s economic plan, Biden said during the afternoon press conference. The other portion will focus on improving childcare, education, and clean energy projects. Both proposals will move through Congress “in tandem” and represent Biden’s next steps for building a stronger economy.

“If it turns out that what I’ve done so far — what we’ve done so far — is a mistake, it’s going to show,” the president said. “If that happens, my policies didn’t make a lot of sense. But I’m counting on it not.”

Biden has long advocated a $15 minimum hourly wage, but opposition from Senate Republicans and even some Democrats has kept such legislation from reaching his desk. Still, elements of his $1.9 trillion stimulus package may have achieved a similar effect. The $300-per-week boost to jobless benefits led unemployment insurance to compete with the average wage in every state, Insider’s Andy Kiersz calculated.

Twenty-six states have since announced plans to prematurely end the benefit in hopes of pushing more Americans to find work. Yet early job-search data suggests the move is doing little to spur employment. And some jobless Americans told Insider in May that, after receiving generous UI payments for several months, they don’t plan to return to low-paying jobs.

“These guys are just dumbasses if they actually think that the UI is the problem and not the wage,” Matt Mies, an unemployed 28-year-old, told Insider’s Juliana Kaplan, referring to Republican governors ending the benefit early.

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