West Virginia's Economy Has Long Been Dependent on One Industry: Coal

Generations of West Virginians have worked in the coal industry and lived in communities that relied almost completely on coal mining. The rise—and fall—of West Virginia's economy correlates directly to the coal industry's boom and subsequent bust.
Last updated on Mar 3 , 2021
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Since the 19th century, West Virginia has been coal country. The industry came to dominate many of the state's counties and was responsible for much of the state's early development in related industries, such as transportation and construction. Entire communities sprouted up around coal mines; in fact, because most mines were far from towns, coal companies often started their own towns - complete with inexpensive homes, company stores, and churches. This led to "a unique way of life" for miners and their families, who relied on their employers for everything from an income to the very place they called home to where they bought basic goods. In the 1940s and 1950s —often considered coal's "heyday"—more than 100,000 West Virginians were employed in coal mines. (Coal mining employment peaked in the 1940s, with more than 125,000 West Virginians employed by the industry.) Thousands more were employed in related industries, such as mechanics and transportation, or in industries made possible by the coal industry, like retail and hospitality. For decades, coal in West Virginia has been "the most economically significant, politically powerful and socially influential industry in the state." Throughout the history of coal mining in West Virginia, about 81% of all its counties were home to regular coal-mining operations. Not only did coal provide jobs and energy for an entire country, it also helped fund public budgets at the state and local levels. Like other Appalachian areas that developed around coal, West Virginia has been at the mercy of that industry. Since its 1950s heyday, the discovery of coal outside of Appalachia and the mechanization of coal mining work have caused the industry's decline in places like West Virginia. As mines shuttered and companies declared bankruptcy, West Virginia's economy has, in turn, also taken a hit. In 2019, fewer than 14,000 West Virginians worked in the coal mines (representing a 40% job loss since 2008), and the state suffered a nearly $2.3 billion loss in export sales of coal between 2018 and 2019.
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Paula Jean believes this fact based on:
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Sources
Economic researcher: West Virginia is "too reliant on energy"
Life After Coal: The Decline and Rise of West Virginia Coal Country
In Life After Coal, Appalachia Attempts to Reinvent Itself
History of West Virginia Mineral Industries - Coal
In Pro-Trump West Virginia Coal Country, the Jobs Keep Leaving
Coal-mining employment in West Virginia from 2010 to 2019, by mine type
WV's governor considers $100M cuts
W.Va. House votes to use budget surpluses to help fund PEIA
State Exports from West Virginia
West Virginia Office of Industry - Coal
The Coal Industry Extracted a Steep Price From West Virginia. Now Natural Gas Is Leading the State Down the Same Path.
United States Census Bureau QuickFacts Clay County, West Virginia
Clay County's Only Major Grocery Store Closes
In Clay County, West Virginia, Trump’s inauguration brings hope of coal’s revival — even for youth
Data USA Clay County WV

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