Paula Jean Swearengin (Unofficial)
Residents of States That Rely on One Declining Industry Leave to Look for Work Elsewhere
If a job search proves unfruitful, many former coal workers may be pushed to leave their hometowns. Those who can't are left with a decimated and impoverished community.
Many coal-workers in the past decade have found themselves out of a job. The number of coal jobs has nearly halved since 2012 alone, according to national statistics. For laid-off coal workers who have only worked in one industry, it can be extremely difficult to find work. This is even more challenging in coal-reliant communities with precious few other industries to find work in. In coal-dominant West Virginia, for instance, a natural gas project that could have provided jobs was halted indefinitely. “Due to changing conditions in the energy and financial markets, the company has decided that it is not prudent and in the best interest of all stakeholders, including the state, to move forward with the state’s lending and therefore will not complete the loan that was approved this summer," the company said in October 2020. The skills learned over years or decades in a coal plant often don't translate to other jobs. “Working in a power plant is pretty specialized, and those skills will be hard to transfer to another career. There are some options with other power plants, but they’d have to pick up and move to another state," explained Jim Griffin, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1900. Some unemployed coal workers consider moving to other states to find work. Some have had to take a loss when selling their homes. George Adkins, for instance, was working at a West Virginia mine when it closed in 2019. He considered going to Tennessee or North Carolina, he told the Wall Street Journal. “Everywhere you looked it was coal trucks. It’s whittled down to almost nothing," he said. Even moving to another state is uncertain, however. As coal jobs decline across the nation, relocating to another coal-reliant community is not a safe bet for long-term stability. Those who stay in their hometowns or communities might need to grapple with long-term unemployment. And there is little social safety net in place to cushion the blow.
Paula Jean believes this point based on