Thursday, September 05, 2013

Newspaper in depressed coal county asks readers for suggestions on how to turn it around

While many working Americans enjoyed a paid day off from work Monday, Labor Day meant nothing to many residents in Eastern Kentucky, where the coal industry is shrinking. Harlan County had the state's highest unemployment rate in July, 17.2 percent. The national average was 7.4 percent. In Harlan County, where 29,000 people live, 1,906 were out of work and actively seeking employment, but there are hundreds more who are unemployed but have exhausted their jobless benefits, says an editorial in the Harlan Daily Enterprise. (Bureau of Labor Statistics graphic)
"As a result, it is well documented that our entire community — whether you are working in mining, health care, education, private business or any other occupation — is suffering," the editorial says. "It goes without saying that many are frustrated. Miners who have worked long, hard years have no prospects for jobs at this time. Many of these same miners have, or will soon, exhaust their unemployment compensation benefits. We shudder when thinking of what is next for them and their families. The support industries are seeing the same scenario."

Harlan has few job opportunities, having been hit hard by the loss of coal jobs. "Since mid-2011, Eastern Kentucky has lost more than 5,700 coal jobs, or nearly 42 percent," Bill Estep reported last month for the Lexington Herald-Leader. The loss of jobs has also led to a decrease in population, with numbers expected to continue to drop. (H-L chart)

The editorial concludes, "If we don’t join forces and do something now, we will continue to see our family, friends and neighbors remain or become unemployed. We may find ourselves in the same predicament. We welcome and encourage you in the days and months ahead to share your thoughts and suggestions as letters to the editor on where we need to go and how we should get there. You could be the vital link to the successful plan. Hopefully, next year’s Labor Day can be marked with a true celebration in Harlan County." (Read more)

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