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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Morning Edition Does PR Piece for the Coal Industry

Morning Edition Does PR Piece for the Coal Industry

Friday, 28 September 2012 05:22

The coal industry has spent tens of millions of dollars trying to convince people that the country should not take measures to stop global warming. NPR contributed to this campaign by running a piece on the politics of Ohio in the election which implied that coal was central to the state's economy or at least to the area around Akron.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Ohio has approximately 12,000 employed in mining and logging. Presumably the vast majority of these workers are employed in coal mining. If we assume that all of them are employed in mining then this would be a bit more than 0.2 percent of its 5.2 million workers.

Turning to the Akron area, BLS doesn't break out mining and logging separately, but tells us that around 12,000 workers are employed in construction, mining, and logging. If we assume that construction accounts for 3 percent of total employment (roughly the national average), this would leave a bit less than 3,000 workers employed in mining, around 1 percent of its total employment of 320,000.

While the coal industry may want us to believe that the region's economy depends on a sector that accounts for less than 1 percent of total employment, that is not a plausible story. NPR should not have uncritically presented the industry's claims about its importance to the region's economy. 

Comments (12)Add Comment
written by Last Mover, September 28, 2012 7:23
Not to worry. This problem will be resolved as soon as the extraction industry obtains patents necessary for exclusive rights to extract energy from the sun and wind to create more than enough jobs to replace those lost in mining coal and solve the tragedy of commons at the same time.
written by kharris, September 28, 2012 8:12
Yup. That part of the report was terrible, leaving unsupportable assertions unchallenged. Where NPR did a little better was in laying blame for the coal industry's trouble. The coal guys, apparently aware that moaning about low natural gas prices won't win any arguments, blamed low coal prices on regulation. The NPR report - making a good point in a bad way - noted that some unnamed analysts think low gas prices are the bigger problem for coal mining.

Not a zero for NPR, but not a passing grade, either.
coal and schools
written by Jennifer Reft, September 28, 2012 8:42
I really appreciate the perspective your numbers give. However, it does not answer the real issue what do you do with an industry that needs to be destroyed. Yes I know that "trade" agreements and technology have destroyed other industries with nary a peek from politicians. But because of history, corporate money, whatever the issue of what to do with coal has become almost theological in nature. As you point out it is not a lot of people or a very large industry, and the idea that is it over-regulated (which of course got NO push back, even though NPR itself has done some investigative work on this issue) is nonsense. I believe the miners who have black lung (which is INCREASING) and some of the miners who have been killed in "accidents" (which on closer examination appear to be directly related to attempts to circumvent what regulations there are) might take issue with that stance. In Illinois there was a story about a mining company that made its employees attend a Romney rally, stating that it was about saving the industry. How many people in Illinois work in the coal industry? Wait for it . . . about 3,000. Plus they get a ton of subsidies--no I do not have the numbers in my defense I do not do this for a living--you could probably write a check to the workers and come out ahead. But if people who are serious about getting rid of coal they need have some alternative plans for coal workers--just that it does not employ a lot of people is not going to work.

Dean did you hear the piece on the pro-charter/anti-union movie out? (or do you have a one-post maximum on stupid morning edition stories?) It was just as vapid as you'd expect, of course there was no mention of how charter schools do not do any better then public schools. Nor was there any discussion if schools who have undergone "turnaround" processes, whether instigated by school districts or parents, have done any better. From what I have heard, they have not but I don't know if there have been any good studies on this.
npr & coal
written by mel in oregon, September 28, 2012 11:20
first npr is no better as a source of news than any other corporate tv. look at their sponsors, big corporate entites. coal has been probably the least environmentally concerned, most anti-union, & cares least about the health of their employees of any american industry, but with strong competitors such as the beef & pig slaughter industry.
written by cs, September 28, 2012 11:20

I really enjoy reading your columns, having followed you since '05. Could you help me undertand your post in the context of my comment below?

When a company employs a bunch of folks, don't they also indirectly support other jobs in the communities they live in? Suppliers of all sorts, machine shops, heavy equipment makers, tool-makers, construction workers, cafe's and shops; the list could go on...

When you pick apart the details of the effect of direct employment like you have done in this post, do you discount the indirect effects of large employers on a region's broader employment base?
written by fuller schmidt, September 28, 2012 1:26
I'll take this one: the indirect effect is also a percentage. And the larger point is that people who study these things have determined that the externalized costs of coal greatly enough outweigh its benefits.
written by fuller schmidt, September 28, 2012 1:34
Sorry - I accidentally put that link in the title line above.
written by Patience, September 28, 2012 3:00
I'm a fan of pretty much everything you write but I think you're slightly off the mark here-- they may quote a professor from the University of Akron, but that's in the northeast portion of the state. According to the state's Department of Natural Resources, "Ohio’s coal region covers thirty-two counties, and is located to the south and east of a line that would stretch roughly from Portsmouth through Zanesville to Youngstown." There's no overlap with Akron's metropolitan area.
Responses to Jennifer and CS
written by Dean, September 28, 2012 3:05

we need and have programs, most importantly UI, to help displaced workers. I know that is not adequate for the workers who might lose their jobs in the mining industry, but this doesn't make them any different than much larger groups of workers who lose their jobs in hundreds of other industries due to government policies of various sorts.

I don't expect coal miners to be happy and frankly i think we should try to help them, but I fail to see the moral claims that a few thousand miners have that are better than the claims that hundreds of thousands of workers in the auto industry, the steel industry and other sectors that have seen huge job loss largely as the result of trade policy.

The reason that we hear so much about the miners is because the mine owners put them out as a front. This country routinely throws a hundred times as many workers out of their jobs without a second thought -- and you don't hear NPR doing lengthy pieces on it.

Fuller Schmidt,

by all means we should count the indirect jobs, but it still doesn't add up to much. remember, no one is talking about a policy that would throw all the miners out of work tomorrow. A very strong green policy might eliminate half of these jobs over the course of a decade. This means that for the state of Ohio it would lose mining jobs that are equal to 0.01 percent of its labor force each year. If you multiple that effect by 1.5, it still doesn't look like a really big deal. In the case of Akron, the number would be 0.05 percent. It won't devastate the economy.
written by skeptonomist, September 28, 2012 5:01
At this point coal is a political story, as Republicans seize on the EPA prohibition of new coal-fired plants as a "job-killer". This has been a point of attack for them all along, as reasons to ignore global warming and all environmental restrictions. But it seems that because of fracking, gas is beating out coal on purely economic grounds; the EPA ruling may be unnecessary. The issue could conceivably cause a significant movement of voters in the swing states Ohio and Virginia. Coal miners are mostly union, and I suppose would lean Democratic for that reason, although I don't know how they actually vote. But if their job are made to seem threatened because of Obama's action, at least some could switch votes.
Response to Dean on coal
written by Jennifer, September 28, 2012 9:15
Oh I completely agree with you it is really a political issue. There isn't any reason why coal workers are any different then other displaced workers but miners seem to have a hold on the body politic that other industries do not--I think it is the energy thing.
Coal Mining Employment
written by scott moore, October 01, 2012 11:01
BLS QCEW 2011 Annual is 2,570 miners

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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.