Boone County coal mine employment drops 41 percent since 2011

Fred Pace

June 24, 2014

A recent SNL Energy analysis of U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data found the industry had shed 17,072 jobs between a near-term employment peak in the fourth quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2014, a decline of more than 18 percent.

A closer look at MSHA data shows that 14,296, or nearly 84 percent, of those jobs were lost in just five Appalachian states — Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Alabama and Pennsylvania.

Boone County, W.Va., home of the West Virginia Coal Festival, saw its average coal mine employment during the period drop by 1,838 employees, to 2,682 from 4,520, according to the report. This is a decline of nearly 41 percent since the fourth quarter of 2011.

According to 2013 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Boone County was just 24,224, and the most recent census data estimates 20.3 percent of individuals in the county live below the poverty level.

Production from mines in the county also has dropped, from 5.2 million tons in the fourth quarter of 2011 to just 3.4 million tons in the most recent quarter, the report showed.

Kris Mitchell, director of community and economic development at the Boone County Community and Economic Development Corporation, said that while many hope coal mining could make a comeback, she believes it would likely take a few years before coal’s decline can reverse course.

“People don’t seem to realize, yes, it is bad those miners are out of work and it’s a horrible thing, but what makes it even worse is those miners then don’t spend money,” Mitchell said. “They don’t buy homes, they don’t buy cars, they cut back on groceries and they don’t eat out. So that impacts every business in the county.”

Mitchell said the effect ripples out to surrounding counties, and even into Charleston. While she says the county is being proactive in seeking other industries, it is tough to replace the coal industry.

“There are no jobs that are comparable to mining here,” Mitchell said. “A coal miner will make anything from $60,000 to $80,000 per year. It’s very, very hard work and long hours, but they do it because it’s a good living and they want to provide for their family. Finding 1,800 jobs here that are comparable to that — that’s not even possible.”

Keep reading the full report and analysis here: