Tuesday, November 8, 2016

WV Employment By Trade

West Virginia is not a state full of coal miners. Until policy leaders and legislators understand this fact, it is worth emphasizing. This is a fact; it is not open for interpretation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics can help quantify the state's workers by sector. At the end of the first quarter of 2016, there were 13,225 workers in WV employed in "Mining." Another 4,770 people were performing "support activities for mining." Combining the two sectors yields 17,995 workers employed directly by mining. That is 3.3% of the private workforce. That is less than 4%. Should the other 523,526 private sector workers in the state be beholden to policies set specifically for this small minority? That is a rhetorical question. The answer is "No."
Not only is coal mining not employing a large share of the private workforce, employment in the sector has been declining for years. You could blame federal policy and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for that, or you could realize the impact of mechanized labor and competition in power generation by natural gas and renewable sources is making coal mining less labor intensive and less important, respectively.

I understand the deep nostalgia of the coal miner and its use as a symbol. But it is a tired and dated symbol in desperate need of retirement. We can do better than exalting minimum wage work with a direct risk of lung cancer.