In the last 40 years, the coal industry has shed more thab 100,000 jobs, leaving swaths of rural America in deep financial hardship. This is part of a longer decline that began in 1920 when coal hit its peak employment of 784,000.
Were coal jobs the victims of a war on coal?
This particular wrecking ball of jobs isn’t the result of environmental regulations, the reduction in coal production, or even competition from cheaper natural gas. It certainly os not because of a political war targeting coal. This staggering loss of jobs is self-inflicted by the coal industry itself. From 1980 to 2017, US coal production dropped a mere 6% but 70% of mining jobs were lost.
- Coal production dropped from 830 million tons in 1980 to 775 million in 2017, a modest decrease of 6.6%.
- Over the same time, coal employment fell from 169,000 to 51,000, an eye-popping 70% drop.
These 100,000 jobs were all lost to automation and a shift towards more efficient strip mining and mountaintop removal.
In short, the devastating loss of coal jobs isn’t being driven by outside forces. Coal mining simply succumbed to the same market forces that reduced the ranks of bank tellers and phone operators – automation.