Monday, August 15, 2016

Pennsylvania coal employment down 97%+

Few would have predicted that coal would be so much in the news this election season. Lots has been impacting the coal industry across the country and Pennsylvania has long - did I say long - been coal country.

I myself have been fascinated with the news headline that came out last week that Kentucky coal jobs hit lowest level since 1898.  The earth shattering factoid generating that headline was that the number of Kentucky coal miners dropped to 6,465 in the 2nd quarter of 2016, a low not seen since before the turn of the (19th) century.

Of course I had to ask what the comparable factoid for Pennsylvania? Has Pennsylvania coal mining employment dropped to levels of 1898? The latest published data itemizing coal mining employment specifically for Pennsylvania says there were 5,922 employed in coal mining as of the 4th quarter of 2015.  How does that compare to past coal mining employment in Pennsylvania?

I will admit not being able to find a clean dataset of coal employment going back far enough to answer that directly, But how about looking back just to 1898.  Is Pennsylvania back to 1898 levels?   Actually no, and not even close.  If you add up employment in both Anthracite and Bituminous mining, you get a Pennsylvania employment total in excess of 223 thousand in 1898 - a year that was likely a few decades before employment levels peaked remarkably.

By those numbers, Pennsylvania coal mining employment is down down over 97% from 1898 levels.  How far back do you need to go to get a Pennsylvania employment level under 5,922?  Hard to say given how far back you need to go. At least for Anthracite mining - which was the predominant type of coal mined in the state in that era - you have to go back to 1850 to get a lower employment count (p. 434).

So I didn't lie, Pennsylvania coal jobs are down 97% or more.  The title does not specify what the reference year was.   So when there is politispeak about how mining can/will come back, the first question you might ask is what year, or what century, the state's employment level can be rolled back to.

Which leads to an obvious, and possibly more pertinent, question.  What have been recent employment trends in Pennsylvania coal mining?  Here is the annual employment data since 2001, a time series that is remarkable stable when you think about it given all that has been happening across the industry elsewhere.

For reference here is the tabular data for that chart:

2001 8,421
2002 7,964
2003 7,062
2004 7,212
2005 7,415
2006 7,592
2007 7,420
2008 7,872
2009 7,685
2010 7,772
2011 8,454
2012 8,619
2013 8,002
2014 7,306
2015 6,428


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