Paula Jean Swearengin (Unofficial)
There’s a Long History of Poverty and Health Issues Among Coal Workers
With increasing living and healthcare costs, workers are better off being employed in another industry. However, in coal-reliant communities, well-paying employment can be difficult to find.
Working in coal mines, even with increased safety provisions in recent decades, has long been known to put miners' health at risk, particularly for a host of lung diseases from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to black lung disease. But injuries due to accidents are also not uncommon. "Since 1900, when the federal government first began compiling statistics on coal mining deaths, over 105,000 coal miners have been crushed, gassed, electrocuted or incinerated underground, and well over 15 times as many have been seriously injured," according to TIME. All these problems require reliable and low-cost health insurance, something many workers are losing as companies shutter or cut back as the COVID-19 pandemic lock down drags on. The federal government has a fund which disburses monthly payments to miners who have been disabled by black lung disease in particular, but as recently as March, the National Mining Association asked lawmakers to reduce payments the industry must make to the fund. This is one of many attempts over decades by politicians and the mining industry to dip into and diminish the fund. Companies like Peabody Energy are also cutting off health insurance for its retirees, which it previously guaranteed for the rest of those miners' lives. Many can rely on Medicare, but with severe lung problems and injuries from mining accidents, the costs of supplemental insurance will be incredibly high - especially for those who cannot work or anyone who lives in an area with limited opportunities, as is the case in so many "coal-reliant" communities. Couple this with mining towns being decimated by decreased demand for coal as companies cut jobs, and miners often live in poverty and rely on what low-wage work they can find. It's the result of a century's worth of land rights exploitation in places like Appalachia, keeping workers and those who once owned the land at the mercy of these multi-million-dollar companies. The end of the coal industry would mean much more than some wealthy CEOs losing their jobs. For some coal-reliant communities, the fallout could put them on the brink of financial collapse, according to one report. "Coal-reliant" can mean several things. First and foremost, the designation connotes anywhere that coal companies are a major employer. But it's also bigger than just that: "coal-reliant" communities often rely on the industry to contribute to local government in various ways. In these places, a coal company sometimes leases public lands or facilitates intergovernmental transfers. Even school districts sometimes receive coal-dependent revenue. The loss of coal could ripple out, leaving the entire fiscal system in those communities at risk of collapse.
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