Coal Jobs Matter a Lot … in Coal Country – by Justin Fox (Bloomberg News – June 7, 2017)

The hard numbers behind one West Virginia county’s urge to believe in Donald Trump.

You know the standard line these days on coal: It’s economically insignificant, employing fewer people nationwide than the Arby’s fast-food chain. It’s been on a long decline, pushed aside in electricity generation by cleaner natural gas and renewables. And it’s not coming back — people need to get over it and move on.

There’s something to these arguments. I’ve made versions of most of them in past columns. In May, coal mining companies employed only 51,000 people in the U.S. — less than not only Arby’s but also Southwest Airlines, Morgan Stanley and Bed, Bath & Beyond (just to name a few corporations in a similar size range).

That amounted to just 0.03 percent of total nonfarm payroll employment, and while the coal industry creates jobs beyond just the companies digging for coal, it has clearly become a tiny factor in the overall labor market.

Some of that tininess is new, though: As recently as January 2012, coal mining employment was 89,700 — the highest it had been since the mid-1990s. And while even then coal mining didn’t amount to much on a national scale, it was quite significant in some of the states (Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois and Pennsylvania are the big five coal producers, in that order, and another 10 states produce in significant quantities 1 ) and especially the counties where it is mined.

In the 10 counties with the most people working in coal mining in January 2012, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry accounted for a much more noticeable 3.8 percent of payroll employment. Throw out the three largely urban counties with a lot of other stuff going on, 2 and it’s up to 21.9 percent of employment.

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