SAVANNAH, Ga. — A few years back, heavy-equipment manufacturer JCB held a job fair at its sprawling headquarters, but when a throng of prospective employees learned the next step would be drug testing, an alarming thing happened: About half of them left.
All over the country, employers say they see a disturbing downside of tighter labor markets as they try to rebuild from the worst recession since the Depression: They are struggling to find workers who can pass a pre-employment drug test.
Data suggest employers' difficulties reflect an increase in the use of drugs, especially marijuana — employers' main gripe — and also heroin and other opioid drugs much in the news.
Ray Gaster, owner of lumber yards on both sides of the Georgia-South Carolina border, recently joined friends at a retreat in Alabama to swap business talk. The big topic? Drug tests.
"They were complaining about trying to find drivers, or finding people, who are drug-free and can do some of the jobs that they have," Gaster said.
Drug use in the workforce "is not a new problem. Back in the '80s, it was pretty bad, and we brought it down," said Calvina L. Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation. But, she added, "We've seen it edging back up some," and increasingly, both employers and industry associations "have expressed exasperation."
In its most recent report, Quest Diagnostics, which has compiled employer-testing data since 1988, documented an increase for a second consecutive year in the percentage of U.S. workers who tested positive for illicit drugs — to 4.7 percent in 2014 from 4.3 percent in 2013. And 2013 was the first year in a decade to show an increase.