Monday, April 10, 2017

Coal industry seeing modest growth in jobs, but is it enough for a revival?

The coal industry, has been mechanizing, automating and losing jobs for decades, saw a modest gain recently, notes Justin Fox of Bloomberg News. The industry has gained 1,700 jobs since September, and added 100 jobs in March, growing to 50,300. While the numbers are positive, they aren't big enough to signal a resurgence of coal, Fox writes. (Bloomberg chart: Seasonally adjusted employment in coal mining)
President Trump has promised to revive coal. An increase in jobs is a good sign, but one problem is that Wyoming is the nation's leading state in coal production, "producing as much as the next seven added together," but is only third in employment, Fox writes. "That's because almost all of Wyoming's coal mining comes from surface mining, and surface mining is far less labor-intensive than underground mining. Overall, surface mines produced two-thirds of the nation's coal in 2015 but accounted for just 40 percent of coal mining employment."

Bloomberg graphic: Top coal producing states
 vs. states with most coal jobs 
Trump's decision to roll back Obama administration regulations "will have some positive effect on coal mining employment," Fox writes. "The question is how much, and whether it's worth it. The modest uptick in mining jobs since September of course predates the change, and seems to have a lot to do with a rebound in the price of metallurgical coal used in steelmaking, which is mined mainly in Appalachia. The vast majority of U.S. coal production goes to electricity production, and by far the largest share of that comes from Wyoming, where mining is much less labor-intensive."

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