Employment in coal mining
Trump is claiming he can restore coal mining to its former glory by reversing the new regulations that Obama enacted.
Obvious he has no idea what the history of employment in coal mining is.
Just note that it peaked in 1923.
Update: Today the NY Times had a very good article on coal and jobs: “Coal Mining Jobs Trump Would Bring Back No Longer Exist”
The chart shows the effects of mechanization in the first part of the time range, as well as the shift to surface mining from underground mining, the latter because surface mining is far more productive per worker hour. An interesting additional curve would be coal production during the same time frame. Even today the best underground mining techniques (longwall mining) require fewer workers. Given that this works with steel overhead supports where the mining is occuring, which are withdrawn after the coal is extracted. It appears that it is possible to do robotic longwall mining today, but given the poor future of underground coal there is no capital to invest in the tech. http://www.nextbigfuture.com/2016/11/robotics-and-automation-will-reduce.html
Large steam powered gear for removing large quantities of soil started appearing after World War I. The shovels and draglines just kept getting bigger through the 1920s and by the 1930s outfits like Bucyrys-Erie and Marion were scooping up tons of rock at a time. That fits with that downward slope running from the mid-20s to the end of World War II. It looks like there was another big productivity push after the war. I’m guessing it had to do with improved diesel and turbine technology increasing efficiency and cutting demand for coal.
Deep rock mining is just ridiculously more expensive than surface mining, and the big surface mines can be as big and deep as many deep rock mines. They just take out a lot more material and sift it. The yield per remove ton might be lower, but it is so much cheaper to remove a ton that it doesn’t matter.
I wish the graph didn’t include “office workers after 1973.” It looks like this might have added maybe 50-100K workers to the data and so masks a more precipitous decline that would contradict the authors post, and validate Trump’s effort.
Actually the data before 1973 reflect the migration of coal mining to surface mining which employs a lot fewer folks, and will employ less over times as self driving big mine trucks take over. Self driving in a mine is easier as the environment is simpler. Also the graph stretches back to pick and shovel mining in 1900, today far fewer folks work underground.
So just like in steel most of the decline is due to process changes.
Note this link on coal mining productivity: https://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/showtext.php?t=ptb0707 with 2.76 tons per hour in underground mining and 8.86 in surface mining. Now wonder Ky and Wv mines are hurting, its cheaper to mine the powder river coal and move it east.
“and so masks a more precipitous decline that would contradict the authors post, and validate Trump’s effort.”
No it would just reinforce the point. By showing how little upside there really is. What reality do you live in?
Lyle, Kaleberg, Reason, thank you for your comments. You are absolutely right. I knew about your analysis but I did not have the data to show it like you did.
Moreover, I did not bring up impact of very low natural gas prices in recent years that was the dominate factor behind the drop in the demand for coal.
and they are such good jobs, too.
I don’t think you looked at the graph closely enough. From 1900-1973 the data EXCLUDES “office workers” and presumeably just counts actual “miners.” From 1973 on the data INCLUDES office workers so in 1973 onward the you see an upward tic in employment numbers just by counting these formerly excluded workers.
So, in reality, the number of actual “miners” has decreased more than the graph indicates. How much is unclear, but there are undoubtably a large number of “office workers” as in any other industry.
Actually by excluding “office workers” from the pre 1973 numbers also understates the total employment figures for those years too. So the “upside” is greater than you surmise.