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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press If Kentucky Is a Coal Mining State Is It Also a Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction State?

If Kentucky Is a Coal Mining State Is It Also a Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction State?

Monday, 02 June 2014 14:36

The reason for asking is that a New York Times article on reactions to President Obama's plan to have the Environmental Protection Agency restrict carbon emissions referred to Kentucky as a "coal state." According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Kentucky has 11,600 people employed in the coal mining industry. With total employment of 1,846,000, coal mining jobs account for just over 0.6 percent of total employment in the state.

By comparison, BLS reports that Kentucky has 12,400 employed in the heavy and civil engineering construction sector. If it can be called a coal state, presumably the larger number of people employed in heavy and civil engineering construction should also provide a basis for identifying the state. There are several occupations that have employment levels in Kentucky that dwarf the coal industry employment.

For example, the state has 35,700 people working as merchant wholesalers that sell durable goods. It has 25,200 people who are employed at car dealers. And it has 51,800 people working at employment services.

In short, the numbers suggest that Kentucky's economy as a whole may not be affected much by restrictions on the emission of greenhouse gases (which will be phased in through time).

Comments (10)Add Comment
They'll breathe a lot better!
written by Mark Brucker, June 02, 2014 5:54
Even in Kentucky I would bet that it's possible that a lot more people breathe than work in the coal industry! Amazing, but probably true!!
Compared to what
written by Michael Meo, June 02, 2014 7:08
The monicker would still be valid if Kentucky, relative to its population, had a large amount of coal mined.
Percent of GDP seems to be the relevant metric, not jobs
written by Cascadian, June 02, 2014 7:24
Coal is 17% of Kentucky's GDP. It's that large number that gives the industry influence there, more than the relatively small number of jobs it creates. So the end of coal would mean a big hit to the state. Now, no government is yet calling for the end of coal altogether, even though for the good of the climate that may be what's necessary. But to shift away from coal requires replacing a chunk of the economy that would represent a deep and permanent local depression if it disappeared without being replaced by something else.
written by JDM, June 02, 2014 7:42
I have to wonder about that 17% of state GDP claim. Looking around the web quickly, I see things like the following:

"Coal mining is important to the Kentucky economy, but it is dwarfed by the size of the manufacturing sector. In 2009, mining accounted for 1.6 percent of the state’s GDP compared to manufacturing’s 17.4 percent of GDP."


From the National Mining Association: " Those with the largest share of their economy attributed to mining"... "Kentucky (4.6 percent"

The Sierra Club says "the coal industry accounts for less than 1% of Kentucky's workforce and 3% of the state's GDP."

And while it is certainly true that less coal mining means hard times for specific areas of the state, the state itself loses money when it comes to taxes vs. expenditures to the coal industry.

Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, "The Impact of Coal on the Kentucky State Budget":
"A review of coal industry-generated revenues to the state and expenditures from the state suggests that the industry actually costs more than it brings to the state. Using state budget and other official state agency data, we estimate the coal industry generated revenues of $303 million for Fiscal Year (FY) 2006. In the same year, on-budget spending to support coal industry activities totals more than $270 million and off-budget tax expenditures add $85 million to the coal industry’s bill for a total of more than $355 million. The net direct impact of the industry on the state budget for FY 2006 is an estimated –$52 million."
Coal is a rallying point
written by Dave, June 02, 2014 9:41
People rally around the danger and pride in coal miners. It gets votes. It seems like it shouldn't given the relatively poor working conditions of coal miners. But they take pride in their work, and politicians like to use that to rally votes.

It doesn't make economic sense but it makes political sense.

written by Eclectic Obsvr, June 02, 2014 10:49
The thing to remember is that it's not about what is actually in peoples interest-- its about the interest of groups-- in this case the coal industry. They have told a tale that apparently sells that is unequal to the true nature of real policy.

You'd think that coal industry workers would be more skeptical given the safety record, but they always scare them about disappearing jobs. In another time, the reaction wouldn't have been anger against government but anger against greed.
written by s ken brown, June 03, 2014 7:07
Humans are in fact not the noble doers of good we espouse ourselves to be and that makes us liars and believers of lies of the first order; ask Diogenes. Once we accept that, calling Kentucky a coal mining state when coal is a relatively small contributor to jobs and economy makes perfect sense. On the other hand, Kentucky is somewhere around third in coal production in the US amounting to about 10% of total US coal production which gives some basis for calling it a coal mining state. I think it is also significantly metalurgical coal for steel production usage of which will not shrink like energy coal. What folks tell us to believe is always only the latest popular delusion otherwise what would justify our mad crowds?
Kentucky is also the thoroughbred horse racing state.
written by MIchiganmitch, June 03, 2014 7:35
If the government somehow restricted the raising and racing of horses in Kentucky, heads would explode. The fact is that horse racing also probably employs damn few in the 1.8 million workforce but it a huge moneymaker for the top 1/2 of one percent. It is an identify thing and remember, big gubamit brings them ebil revenuers.
written by bananaguard, June 03, 2014 11:15
Well, this is a bit nonsensical, yes? Kentucky is the 3rd producer of coal among US states, behind Wyoming and West Virginia. If I have my math right, that means Kentucky produces more coal than 94% of US states. Is that not justification for calling Kentucky a "coal mining state"?

It's no good to make jacked-up arguments like the one Dean has made here. Dean's interest may be in jobs, but that doesn't make jobs the only metric worth considering. Is Kentucky also 3rd in "heavy and civil engineering construction"? I'm gonna guess "no".

Kentucky is a coal mining state. By most any reasonable definition. Dean simply chose to go with an unreasonable definition to make a point. If a point is worth making, it doesn't need jacked-up arguments for support.
written by JDM, June 04, 2014 3:17
Well, this is a bit nonsensical, yes? Kentucky is the 3rd producer of coal among US states, behind Wyoming and West Virginia. If I have my math right, that means Kentucky produces more coal than 94% of US states. Is that not justification for calling Kentucky a "coal mining state"?

Of course you're engaging in a classic logical fallacy, where you took a criticism of calling Kentucky a "coal state" and strawmanned that as if it were saying that Kentucky is not a "coal mining state". Obviously it is a coal mining state and no one disputes that, but being a "coal state" -- especially in the context of the article in question -- implies a great deal more, namely that coal mining is a large part of the state's GDP and/or employment. Since the latter is not true it doesn't make sense to call Kentucky a "coal state". You wouldn't similarly refer to California as a "Brussels sprouts state" simply because a small part of California's GDP and employment is due to it being by far the biggest producers of Brussels sprouts in the USA..

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.