Monday, September 26, 2016

Donald Trump on Coal Mining Jobs

Donald Trump on Coal Mining Jobs

Lately I heard Candidate Trump blaming the Democrats for the loss of jobs in coal mining. Since he does not believe in global warming it follows that enforcement of clean air regulations for coal fired electric plants makes people like Hillary Clinton responsible for these job losses.

Maybe not.

Back in the early 1920’s just under 800,000 worked as coal miners in the coal industry. It was a time when inter city transportation came entirely from the use coal burning, steam locomotives. It was a time when nearly everyone used coal for home heating. It was a time when the steel industry needed mountains of coal. It was early in the mechanizing use of high productivity machinery.

It was also the beginning of the mordant and mournful decline in coal mining jobs. By 1990 the coal industry employed 136 thousand in surface and underground mining of bituminous coal and anthracite coal. Steam locomotives are gone; few heat their homes with coal; the steel industry uses scrap in electric furnaces. By the end of 2000 jobs were down to 71.6 thousand; by the end of 2010 they recovered to 84.3 thousand; by the end of 2015 the coal industry was down to 60.7 thousand jobs; by August 2016 jobs were 52.4 thousand.

Just over 64 percent of the jobs in coal mining are in construction, extraction and material moving occupations and five of these occupations are partly to mostly specialized to the coal industry. These five are continuous mining machine operators, mine cutting and channeling machine operators, roof bolters, loading machine operators in underground mining and shuttle car operators.

All employed in these occupations operate highly productive mining machinery; they do not use a pick and shovel. For example, 90 percent of shuttle car operators work in the coal industry. The median wage reported for 2015 was $55,320 and that wage has increased faster than inflation since 2008, right after the Obama administration took office. Given the specialized nature of the work it would be next to impossible for laid off shuttle car operators to find a similar job in another industry and similarly for the other four occupations mentioned above.

Other occupations in the coal industry in management, finance, construction, maintenance and repair have employment in many industries and those losing these jobs in the coal industry can seek employment in many other industries just like the rest of us. Since the end of 2008 the five specialized coal mining occupations have lost an average of 859 jobs a year through 2015.

It is worth mentioning that employment in oil and gas extraction and support activities for oil and gas extraction have increased in the years of the Obama presidency from 2008 to 2015 by 27.1 percent, or an additional 102.2 thousand jobs, more than the loss of coal industry jobs. Even if we assume the last eight years of decline in coal demand results solely from clean air regulations applied to coal fired power plants, there is no need to weigh clean air against the loss of jobs in this instance. It doesn’t matter what Trump says or does; coal employment will not be going up, no matter how dirty the air.