Business shows different side of China's economy

An employee at a Chinese glass factory where owners are struggling to cope with rising labor costs.
An employee at a Chinese glass factory where owners are struggling to cope with rising labor costs.
CBS News

(CBS NEWS) SHENZHEN, China -- China will likely be a topic of discussion at Monday's final presidential debate, as President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney have talked tough on China throughout the campaign.

But a business in southern China gives a different portrait of the country's economy.

Eric Lee's family runs a glass factory that exports globes for light fixtures -- mostly to the U.S. When it first opened 18 years ago, labor was cheap and abundant. Now, he cant keep workers, even if he pays 10 times more, or about $800 a month.

Lee says that figure rises about 10 to 30 percent each year.

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You'd never know China was facing its own economic problems from the heated rhetoric on the presidential campaign trail.

Both candidates accuse China of stealing American jobs and of keeping its currency artificially low to boost exports. Obama says he'll continue attacking unfair Chinese trade practices on a case-by-case basis. Romney says he'll take a harder line and label China a currency manipulator on his first day in office.

In fact, the value of China's currency has gone up -- about 8.5 percent in the last two years -- making Chinese exports more expensive. Also rising: the expectations of Chinese workers.

"People do not want to do these hard, tough jobs at the prices that the market is willing to pay for them," says American businessman Ben Schwall, who has matched producers, like the Lees, with buyers around the world for more than 20 years.

Schwall says that if China is cheating, "they're not doing a very good job at it, because these jobs are now leaving China."

Those jobs are heading to places where labor is even cheaper, like Vietnam and Indonesia.