The Wall Street Journal – If there is a “war on coal,” as Donald Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell allege, it has been under way for a very long time. In Mr. McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, coal mine employment peaked at 75,633 in 1948. It fell by two-thirds to about 25,000 in the late 1960s, before doubling to more than 50,000 in the late 1970s. It has since fallen virtually without interruption and now stands at 6,465. Read
Much the same is true for West Virginia, the epicenter of Appalachian angst. The state’s coal industry employed close to 120,000 workers in 1950. By the time John F. Kennedy campaigned against Hubert Humphrey in the state’s 1960 primary, the total stood at less than 50,000. After a temporary recovery in the 1970s and another in the first decade of the current century, about 15,000 remain.
Many forces have combined to decimate coal jobs since their mid-20th century peak. According to a 2014 official report from the state government of Kentucky, the principal culprit has been the “automation and mechanization of mining processes, which have improved mining productivity.” Another factor is “diminishing reserves of thick and easily accessible coal seams.” What remains is “more difficult, labor-intensive, and costly to mine.” A 2012 report from the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, a think tank in Charleston, W.Va., offers much the same account.
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