US manufacturing economy fails employers and workers

Nov 07, 2016

James L. Brown tried to hire a dozen workers for his metal foundry here. Half of them flunked the drug test.

Those results are typical, says the president of Bremen Castings, a family-owned employer of 350 workers who make parts for trucks and other equipment. Drug problems are one factor contributing to a labor shortage that delayed filling orders earlier this year.

"We've become a recruiting company," Brown said of the relentless struggle to maintain a strong workforce.

Bremen Castings illustrates the central tension in U.S. manufacturing: Plant managers complain of a talent shortage, while workers see too few acceptable jobs.

The paradox has echoed through the presidential campaign, with both major candidates lamenting the loss of factory jobs - even as unemployment in most industrial regions has dropped to rates usually considered healthy.

The jobless rate in the county surrounding the Bremen plant, for instance, is less than 4 percent, according to state data. The national rate is 5 percent.

More from CNBC.