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Workers' Inability To Pass Drug Tests Takes Toll On Manufacturing Industry

Ashley Gardner
Shaw Air Force Base

Well-paying manufacturing and industrial jobs—the same kinds of jobs that were promised to American workers in the last election cycle—are sitting unfilled, thanks to applicants' inability to pass employer-required drug tests, according to a report in the New York Times

Increased opioid use is definitely a factor in fewer people passing drug tests (in some cases, at least four out of ten applicants), but differing attitudes about marijuana are playing a role, too.

And while drug use certainly has an economic impact, the effects of failed screenings are more far reaching than lost productivity and profit: 

“It’s not just a matter of labor participation; there is also a lot of collateral economic damage,” said Alan B. Krueger, a Princeton economist who wrote a widely discussed paper on the subject last year. Were it not for the drug issue, said Mr. Krueger, who served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama, workers trapped in low-wage jobs might be able to secure better-paying, skilled blue-collar positions and a toehold in the middle class.

Companies are forced to use recruiting companies to find screened applicants. Additionally, after people are hired, small businesses that offer benefits to employees are sometimes left holding the bag for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of addiction treatment. 

“If something goes wrong, it won’t hurt our workers. It’ll kill them," says one executive. "And that’s why we can’t take any risks with drugs.”


Economy Needs Workers, but Drug Tests Take a Toll At Warren Fabricating & Machining in Hubbard, Ohio, where at least four out of 10 applicants test positive for drug use, Regina Mitchell, a co-owner, has a workaround. She set up an apprentice program, enlarging her hiring pool by de-emphasizing experience or existing skills.