Fighting for Justice in the Coalfields

Coal’s Decline Hits Hardest in the Mines of Kentucky

The Wall Street Journal takes note of the human toll caused by the coal industry’s decline in eastern Kentucky. The article points to the influx of cheap natural gas, combined with the rise of mining and transportation costs of central Appalachian coal, as the main drivers of the regional industry’s decline.

“The human toll is starkly evident. In Kentucky’s Harlan County, the number of mining jobs had fallen 48% from 2011 through June, according to the Journal analysis. The county’s unemployment rate had risen to 16.3% as of August, the 13th highest of more than 3,000 counties in the nation, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates.

“Some declines are sharper in neighboring counties. As of June, mining jobs were down 54% in Letcher County from 2011, and laid-off miners are the equivalent of nearly half of unemployed workers. In smaller Knott County, mining jobs are down 68% from 2011, and the number of laid-off miners roughly equals the county’s unemployed population.”

The authors are also quick to point out that eastern Kentucky is at a slight disadvantage to areas such as West Virginia and Virginia:

“Even West Virginia and Virginia have some advantages over eastern Kentucky. They possess higher grades of coal, including more reserves of metallurgical coal used in steelmaking that currently sell for about $150 a ton. Less direct rail routes out of eastern Kentucky also make its coal more expensive to transport.”

The article, which documents the lives of miners, former miners, and citizens in Harlan County, Kentucky, can be found here.

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