Coal and jobs in the United States

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Total coal-related jobs

There are approximately 174,000 blue-collar, full-time, permanent jobs related to coal in the U.S.: mining (83,000), transportation (31,000), and power plant employment (60,000). (See below for details on each sector.) The U.S. civilian labor force totaled 141,730,000 workers in 2005; thus, permanent blue-collar coal industry employees represent 0.12% of the U.S. workforce.[1] (Compare this percentage with the 1.89% of U.S. workers who worked in coal mining alone in 1920.)

This total does not include indirect employment - workers who are not directly employed in the coal industry, but whose jobs are supported by that industry. It is entirely possible that thousands - even tens of thousands - of workers are indirectly supported entirely by the coal industry. However, the National Coal Association's 1994 estimate that the coal industry directly and indirectly employs around 1.5 million people[2] seems exaggerated. The level of indirect employment is in the low hundreds of thousands - not in the millions.

A 2014 assessment of global jobs found coal provides about seven million worldwide, while renewables (excluding biomass) provide 5.4 million worldwide, despite having only a quarter of the energy share as coal.[3]

Coal mining jobs

In 2006, there were 82,595 people employed in coal mining in the U.S. Of those, 47,475 worked in underground mining, and 35,398 worked in surface mining.

Here is a breakdown of the geographical distribution of underground coal mining jobs in 2006 (with coal production in thousands of short tons):[4][5]

State Total Coal Production Underground Mining Jobs Surface Mining Jobs Total Jobs Annual Production Per Miner
West Virginia 152,374 13,190 6,886 20,076 7.59
Kentucky 120,848 11,902 6,057 17,959 6.73
Pennsylvania 66,029 5,099 2,427 7,526 8.77
Wyoming 446,742 128 5,709 5,837 76.54
Virginia 29,740 3,623 1,639 5,262 5.65
Alabama 18,830 2,621 1,574 4,195 4.49
Illinois 32,729 3,507 470 3,977 8.23
Indiana 35,119 1,231 1,627 2,858 12.29
Ohio 22,722 1,384 1,029 2,413 9.42
Colorado 36,322 1,682 547 2,229 16.30
Texas 45,548 0 2,138 2,138 21.30
Utah 26,018 2,030 6 2,036 12.78
New Mexico 25,913 368 1,004 1,372 18.89
North Dakota 30,411 0 947 947 32.11
Montana 41,823 58 884 942 44.40
Washington 2,580 0 673 673 3.83
Tennessee 2,804 333 327 660 4.25
Maryland 5,054 205 285 490 10.31
Arizona 8,216 0 418 418 19.66
Louisiana 4,114 0 243 243 16.93
Oklahoma 1,998 73 151 224 8.92
Mississippi 3,797 0 178 178 21.33
Alaska 1,425 0 96 96 14.84
Kansas 426 0 61 61 6.98
Arkansas 23 41 2 43 0.53
Missouri 394 0 20 20 19.70
Total U.S. 1,162,750 47,475 35,398 82,595 14.08

From these data, we can see the huge discrepancy in coal mine productivity between Western and Eastern mines. Montana (with 942 coal miners) produces more coal than Virginia (with 5,262 coal miners). Wyoming (with 5,837 coal miners) produces more coal than West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Alabama, and Illinois combined (with a total of 58,995 coal miners). Due to this discrepancy, the coal mining industry has increasingly moved production to these Western states (especially to the Powder River Basin), and has dramatically cut its workforce in Appalachia.

Since 1900, technological developments in the coal mining industry have dramatically increased miner productivity; thus, while U.S. coal production is currently at a record high, mining employment is a fraction of what it was during the heyday of coal mining in the 1910's and 20's:[6][7][8][5]

Year Total U.S. Coal Production Total U.S. Coal Miner Employment Annual Production Per Miner
1900 269,684 448,581 0.60
1910 501,596 725,030 0.69
1920 658,265 784,621 0.84
1930 527,172 644,006 0.82
1940 512,256 530,388 0.97
1950 560,388 488,206 1.15
1955 490,838 258,616 1.90
1960 434,329 188,451 2.30
1965 526,954 144,864 3.64
1970 612,659 146,078 4.19
1975 654,641 193,787 3.38
1980 829,700 228,569 3.63
1985 883,638 169,281 5.22
1990 1,029,076 131,306 7.84
1995 1,033,000 83,462 12.38
2000 1,073,600 71,522 15.01
2006 1,162,750 82,595 14.08

Earnings and unionization in coal mining

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average earnings of nonsupervisory coal workers in 2006 was $1,093 per week or $22.08 per hour. For private industry as a whole, average nonsupervisory worker earnings in 2006 were $568 per week or $16.76 per hour. In the coal, metal ore, and nonmetallic mineral mining industries, 19 percent of workers were union members in 2006, compared with 12 percent of workers throughout private industry.[9]

Coal mining jobs versus wind power jobs

Wind industry jobs surpassed coal mining jobs in 2008, as wind employment increased by 70% from 50,000 in 2007 to 85,000 in 2008.[10][11]

Coal-fired power plant jobs

According to Singh & Fehrs' 2001 analysis of Energy Information Administration data, the average coal-fired power plant - per megawatt of peak capacity - employs 0.18 people in operations & maintenance on a permanent basis.[12] Thus, the average 300 MW coal-fired power plant would employ 54 people in operation & maintenance on an ongoing basis. This corresponds closely with the Energy Information Administration's assessment that, in 1997, the average 300 MW coal-fired power plant had 53 employees.[13]

Using this estimate, we can create an approximate calculation of the total employment of operation & maintenance staff in coal-fired power plants in the U.S.:[14]

Rank State Total Number of Coal Plants Total Coal Plant Capacity Total Coal Plant O&M Jobs (est.)
1 Ohio 114 23,825 MW 4,289
2 Indiana 90 21,551 MW 3,879
3 Texas 40 21,238 MW 3,823
4 Pennsylvania 78 20,475 MW 3,686
5 Illinois 83 17,565 MW 3,162
6 Kentucky 56 16,510 MW 2,972
7 West Virginia 42 15,372 MW 2,767
8 Georgia 46 14,594 MW 2,627
9 North Carolina 67 13,279 MW 2,390
10 Michigan 88 12,891 MW 2,320
11 Alabama 45 12,684 MW 2,283
12 Missouri 56 11,810 MW 2,126
13 Florida 30 11,382 MW 2,049
14 Tennessee 62 10,290 MW 1,852
15 Wisconsin 70 7,123 MW 1,282
16 Iowa 72 6,492 MW 1,169
17 South Carolina 36 6,469 MW 1,164
18 Virginia 55 6,208 MW 1,117
19 Wyoming 23 6,168 MW 1,110
20 Oklahoma 15 5,720 MW 1,030
21 Arizona 16 5,681 MW 1,023
22 Minnesota 46 5,676 MW 1,022
23 Kansas 16 5,473 MW 985
24 Colorado 33 5,308 MW 955
25 Maryland 18 5,236 MW 942
26 Utah 16 5,080 MW 914
27 New Mexico 11 4,382 MW 789
28 New York 48 4,273 MW 769
29 North Dakota 15 4,246 MW 764
30 Arkansas 5 3,958 MW 712
31 Louisiana 6 3,764 MW 678
32 Nebraska 16 3,212 MW 578
33 Nevada 8 2,769 MW 498
34 Mississippi 9 2,696 MW 485
35 Montana 7 2,536 MW 456
36 New Jersey 9 2,237 MW 403
37 Massachusetts 12 1,776 MW 320
38 Washington 2 1,460 MW 263
39 Delaware 10 1,082 MW 195
40 Connecticut 2 614 MW 111
41 New Hampshire 5 609 MW 110
42 Oregon 1 601 MW 108
43 South Dakota 2 481 MW 87
44 California 10 439 MW 79
45 Hawaii 1 203 MW 37
46 Alaska 18 118 MW 21
47 Maine 1 103 MW 19
48 Idaho 6 19 MW 3
49 Rhode Island 0 0 MW 0
50 Vermont 0 0 MW 0
Total U.S. 1,522 335,891 MW 60,460

This estimate of about 60,000 jobs in operations & maintenance in all U.S. coal-fired power plants seems reasonable, as 2006 U.S. Department of Labor data tells us that installation, maintenance, repair, and production occupations employed 160,980 people at all power plants in the U.S. in 2006.[15] As coal power plants provided 31.2% of generating capacity and generated 49.0% of U.S. electricity in 2006, it seems reasonable that coal-fired power plants would employ 37.6% of power plant operations & maintenance workers in the U.S.[14]

Average coal power plant employment has fallen dramatically over the past few decades - both due to technological developments and to rising labor costs. In 1985, according to the EIA, the average 300 MW coal-fired power plant had 78 employees; thus, employment per megawatt declined by 32% between 1985 and 1997.[13]

Coal transportation jobs

Again, according to their 2001 analysis of Energy Information Administration data, Singh & Fehrs - starting with the proportion of coal that is transported by various means (95.9% by rail, 3.8% by barge, and 0.4% by truck), then calculating the average jobs per unit cost for these shipping industries, then applying coal shipping costs to these calculations - estimate that coal transportation employed 30,757 workers in 1995.[12]

Age of workers

Coal plants

The average age of coal plant workers is 48 years. A study by Krishnan and Associates concluded that "a 2,000 MW coal-fired plant with about 200 to 250 employees will likely lose half its current plant staff in the next decade due to retirement, attrition and other similar issues."[16]

Mines

The average age of coal miners in West Virginia is 55.[17]

Coal, income, and poverty

There are 54 coal mines in the U.S. that produced more than 4 million tons of coal in 2006; these 54 mines are located in 34 counties. The median 2005 poverty rate in these 34 counties was 15.5% - 17% higher than the U.S. average of 13.3%. The median 2000 per capita income in these 34 counties was $16,246 - 25% lower than the U.S. average of $21,587.

There are 404 coal-fired power plants in the U.S. with a capacity greater than 100 MW. The median 2005 poverty rate in the counties in which these 404 plants are located was 13.4% - roughly the same as the U.S. average. Here is a graph of the distribution of these 404 plants by 2005 county poverty rate:

County Poverty Rate Range Deviation from U.S. Average # of Plants Total Capacity
3.8 - 6.6% -50% to -71% 26 20,046 MW
6.7 - 9.9% -25% to -50% 63 54,292 MW
10.0 - 13.2% 0 to -25% 106 74,001 MW
13.3 - 16.5% 0 to +25% 105 84,811 MW
16.6 - 19.9% +25% to +50% 63 52,004 MW
20.0 - 26.6% +50% to +100% 30 29,261 MW
26.6 - 41.7% +100% to +214% 11 7,329 MW

However, in 2000, the median per capita income in the counties in which these 404 plants were located was $18,465 - 15% lower than the U.S. average. Here is a graph of the distribution of these 404 plants by 2000 county per capita income:

County Per Capita Income Range Deviation from U.S. Average # of Plants Total Capacity
$8,986 - 12,952 -40% to -58% 6 4,600 MW
$12,953 - 17,270 -20% to -40% 141 127,049 MW
$17,271 - 21,587 0 to -20% 178 140,817 MW
$21,588 - 25,904 0 to +20% 59 42,844 MW
$25,905 - 30,222 +20% to +40% 15 9,063 MW
$30,223 - 38,550 +40% to +78% 5 2,492 MW

Out of the 404 coal power plants in the U.S. with capacity over 100 MW, 80.4% are in counties that have a lower per capita income than the U.S. average.[14][18][19][20]

To a certain extent, there is an inverse relationship between poverty rates and income levels: the highest income levels tend to be in cities, where poverty rates are also high; lower income levels tend to be in rural areas, where poverty rates are also low. Thus, since most existing coal power plants are in rural areas, the poverty rates are roughly average for the U.S., even though per capita income in those areas is lower than average. However, out of the 404 U.S. coal plants with capacity over 100 MW, 82 - with a total capacity of 73,769 MW, or 22% of U.S. coal power capacity - are in counties that have poverty rates that are at least 25% higher than the U.S. average, as well as per capita income levels that are at least 20% lower than the U.S. average. These 82 plants are thus in some of the most economically devastated areas in the U.S.; 49 are in the South, 23 are in Appalachia, 32 are in counties that are either more than 25% black or more than 25% Latino, and 9 are in counties that are more than 20% Native American.

New coal plants and number of jobs

A 2011 Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies report, "A Fraction of the Jobs" found that power companies have overestimated the number of jobs created by new coal-fired power plants. The analysis looked at the six largest new coal-fired power plants to come online between 2005 and 2009, and combed through each project’s initial proposals and job projection data, including public statements, published documents and other material. They then compared that data to actual employment — before, during and after construction — in the areas where the projects were built, relying chiefly on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.[21]

They found that only a little over half - or 56 percent - of every 1,000 jobs projected, appeared to be actually created as a result of the coal plants’ coming online. In four of the six counties, the projects delivered on just over a quarter of the jobs projected. Only one county, the Walter Scott unit number 4 project in Pottawattamie County, Iowa, saw an increase in construction employment that was roughly commensurate with the numbers predicted before the project there got under way.[21]

Construction Employment Change in Counties with New Coal Plants

Plant County Total Projected Employment Actual County Construction Employment Change (Peak) Actual Change as % of Projection
Sandow Unit 5 Milam 1,370 463 33.7%
Nebraska City Station Unit 2 Otoe N/A -73 N/A
Weston Unit 4 Marathon 1,200 429 35.7%
Council Bluffs Energy Center Unit 4 Pottawattamie 1,000 2,407 240.7%
Cross 3 & 4 Berkeley 1,400 509 36.3%
Oak Grove Units 1 & 2 Robertson 2,400 329 13.7%

Cancelled coal plants and jobs

The decline of U.S. coal 2012-2016.

In September 2011, the National Mining Association issued a press release stating that potentially 1.24 million jobs in 36 states had been destroyed by the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign aimed at stopping construction of new coal-based power plants. The number was based on NMA projections of jobs that would have been created had the plants come online. The Sierra Club stated that power companies routinely overstate the number of jobs that would be created by a new plant, and that the report did not take into account the jobs created in other energy sectors because the coal-fired power plants were not built.[22]

Coal regulations and jobs

Some companies argue that coal regulations would affect jobs in the power industry and slow overall economic growth. A June 2011 study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), "A lifesaver, not a job killer: EPA's proposed "air toxics rule" is no threat to job growth" found that new regulations on mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollution from power plants proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in March 2011 would actually have a slightly positive impact on job growth and economic health.

The study found that:

  • The toxics rule would have a modest positive net impact on overall employment, likely leading to the creation of 28,000 to 158,000 jobs between now and 2015. (This estimate reflects the specific findings that follow below.)
  • The employment effect of the toxics rule on the utility industry itself could range from 17,000 jobs lost to 35,000 jobs gained.
  • The toxics rule would create between 81,000 and 101,000 jobs in the pollution abatement and control industry (which includes suppliers such as steelmakers).
  • Between 31,000 and 46,000 jobs would be lost due to higher energy prices leading to reductions in output.
  • Assuming a re-spending multiplier of 0.5, and since the net impact of the above impacts is positive, another 9,000 to 53,000 jobs would be created through re-spending.

Mountaintop removal regulations and jobs

According to MSHA data, the number of mining jobs in Appalachia has increased by 3.5 percent since the EPA began its enhanced review of mountaintop-removal permits in 2009, and 8.5 percent since the start of the 2008 recession. Grist argues that because underground mines employ more miners than mountaintop-removal mines for every ton of coal unearthed, stricter enforcement leads to an increase in mining jobs.[23]

An April 2011 study, “Mountaintop removal and Job Creation: Exploring the Relationship Using Spatial Regression” published in the peer-reviewed Annals of the Association of American Geographers (subscription req'd), looked at GIS data of West Virginia strip-mine permit boundaries and compared it to population and economic data to see if being located near a larger mining operation made a community more likely to have large numbers of residents employed by the coal industry. They found that, contrary to pro-MTR arguments, "there was no supporting evidence suggesting MTR contributed positively to nearby communities’ employment."

The study said: "Our research question was straightforward: Is there a relationship between the size of MTR mining and employment, which justifies the ‘coal means jobs’ mantra? The results of the overall model suggested insufficient evidence to support a positive relationship between mine size (either MTR mining or underground mining) and percentage of the working population employed in coal mining. This finding casts doubt on the pervasive and dominant argument of MTR advocates." The study noted that it looked only at direct employment by the mining industry, and not other local occupations that service that industry.

Declining coal jobs in eastern Kentucky

Tracking numbers from the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet showed employment at Eastern Kentucky mines falling from 13,608 jobs in December 2011 to 9,540 in December 2012 — a decline of 4,068 jobs. Production in the area also fell to 49.4 million tons — the lowest level since 1965. The decline has been attributed to the increasing use by US utilities of natural gas over coal, the updating of coal regulations, and that the remaining coal in Eastern Kentucky is harder to extract, making the costs of production higher. Employment and production in western Kentucky remained steady.[24]

Reports

Appalachian Voices

The 2013 Appalachian Voices report, "Growth of U.S. Coal Jobs: Federal Data Showing Coal Mining Employment Trending Higher Since 2009," looks at Mining Safety and Health Administration data on coal mining jobs, which shows that the average number of coal-mining jobs under the Obama administration has been 15.3 percent higher than the average under George W. Bush. The report points to increased exports and decreasing productivity - requiring more workers to extract harder to reach coal - as reasons for the increase.

Resources

References

  1. Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, Bureau of Labor Statistics website, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed July 2008.
  2. Coal Data: A Reference, Energy Information Administration, 1995.
  3. "Employment in Renewable Energy Sector Reaches 5.7 Million Globally," IRENA, Jan 21, 2014.
  4. "Average Number of Employees by State and Mine Type", Energy Information Administration, accessed May 2008.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Coal Production and Number of Mines by State and Mine Type, 2006-2005", Energy Information Administration, accessed May 2008.
  6. "Coal Data: A Reference", Energy Information Administration, 1995, pp. 65-68.
  7. "Coal Industry Annual 2000", Energy Information Administration, 2000, p. 64.
  8. "Annual Energy Review 2006", Energy Information Administration, 2006, p. 203.
  9. "Career Guide to Industry: Mining," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed 1/09
  10. "WIND ENERGY GROWS BY RECORD 8,300 MW IN 2008," American Wind Energy Association press release, 1/27/09
  11. Todd Woody, "Wind jobs outstrip the coal industry," Green Wombat, 1/28/09
  12. 12.0 12.1 Virinder Singh & Jeffrey Fehrs, The Work That Goes Into Renewable Energy, Renewable Energy Policy Project, 2001, p. 26.
  13. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Existing Electric Generating Units in the United States, 2005, Energy Information Administration, accessed April 2008.
  14. NAICS 221100 - Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution, May 2007 National Industry-Specific Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2007.
  15. "Easing the Exodus," Power Engineering, June 2006
  16. Tom Vanden Brook, "Recruits hungry for good jobs head off to coal mines," USA TODAY, 2/14/06
  17. Major U.S. Coal Mines, Energy Information Administration, accessed July 2008.
  18. 2005 County-Level Poverty Rates, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, accessed July 2008.
  19. Per Capita Income in 1999, Census 2000 Summary File 3, U.S. Census Bureau American Fact Finder, accessed July 2008.
  20. 21.0 21.1 Tom Zeller, "Coal, Jobs and America’s Energy Future" NY Times, March 31, 2011.
  21. "Mining group study finds Sierra Club anti-coal campaign costs jobs" Platts, Sep. 7, 2011.
  22. Matt Wasson, "Kentucky coal companies remind us why we really, really need the EPA" Grist, June 29, 2011.
  23. James Bruggers, "Kentucky coal production, employment plummet: Dark days for coal," The Courier-Journal, April 4, 2013.

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