I'm Right Again Dot ComA new commentary every Wednesday — May 11, 2016
THE CHALLENGE FOR THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR: Finding Jobs for Unemployed Coal Miners
As the son and the grandson of coal miners, a line from an Associated Press story published in the Arizona Daily Star this past Saturday, caught my eye. "Coal has dropped over the last decade from producing half of all U.S. electricity to about one-third." My commentary this week is focused on the human element involved in this revolutionary but inevitable change.
Natural gas, wind and solar energy is rapidly replacing coal as the dominant means of powering generators of electricity. While this is in line with aspirations for cleaner air, it is having a devastating effect on what has been for more than a century a major industry and employer of the highest paid industrial workers in the world, American coal miners. Employment in U.S. coal mines peaked in 1923, when the United Mine Workers of America Union counted 863,000 members on its rolls.
Mechanization throughout the years increased coal production immensely, but brought a steady decline in employment. By 2015, the number of coal miners in the USA had dropped to 56,700—a few of whom are now women—still adding up to the fewest number of employed coal miners in 125 years.
One statistic found in my research surprised me: coal is still mined in 25 of our 50 States. One of the hardest hit by the rapid change in the means of generating electricity is West Virginia, where coal mining has always been by far the dominant industry. "Work Force West Virginia" reports that more than 4,200 more coal miners have lost their jobs in that State alone, since March of 2015.
The United States Department of Labor is trying to alleviate some of the pain by offering grants to those institutions that offer classes in other kinds of occupations to unemployed miners. It is probably too early to conclude whether this is proving to be effective.
My fear is that it so difficult for miners to transition to other means of employment that an entire society will be uprooted as were thousands of farm families in the 1930s , driven by economic necessity from the "Dust Bowl." Reference: John Steinbeck's classic documentary-drama: (Novel and Film) "The Grapes of Wrath."
-Phil Richardson, Observer of the human condition and storyteller. "He goes doddering on into his old age, making a public nuisance of himself." - Joseph L. Menchen
THE PROSPERITY COAL COMPANY: My book about hard times and union wars in the coal fields, in times past.
$9.95, plus shipping For details on the novel, click: http://www.Amazon.com and enter "Prosperity Coal Company" in the search window.
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