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Employment in coal


Coal has been in the news lately—specifically, coal mining jobs. Let’s take a look at what FRED can show us about coal mining employment among U.S. states. For starters, half of U.S. states don’t mine coal. Of the 25 that do, 10 have only a handful of mines and many other states have so little employment in that industry that the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t separate coal mining from other mining activities.* In the end, we have a precise data series for only three coal-producing states.

It turns out these three series are enough to show that coal mining employment has differed among states. Employment has trended down since the start of the series (in 1990) in both Kentucky and Pennsylvania. But Wyoming has no such downward trend; in fact, there’s been an uptick in recent years, except for a marked decrease in 2016. Why the difference? Coal from Pennsylvania and Kentucky has a much higher SO2 content, which is costly to remove during the burning process. So coal-fired power plants prefer to use the less-polluting coal from, say, the state of Wyoming (not to be confused with the coal-rich Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania). But with the boom in shale gas extraction and the lower cost of natural gas (and other alternative fuels), even Wyoming coal is becoming less competitive. We’ll see what the future holds for this industry.

*Per the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the top five U.S. coal producers in 2015 were Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. The BEA offers employment data for West Virginia and Illinois only for all forms of mining plus logging.

How this graph was created: Search for “coal employment” and select the three series. Click on “Add to Graph.”

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: SMU21000001021210001SA, SMU42000001021210001SA, SMU56000001021210001SA


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