General Question

tinyfaery's avatar

Why are coal miners so eager to go back to mining?

Asked by tinyfaery (42692points) March 28th, 2017

It’s a dirty, dangerous, destructive job. If coal miners could be trained to do something else, like how to do green energy jobs (Bernie’s idea) why would they choose to be coal miners? Let’s assume here that the pay and benefits would be the same, or better, and I do not see why they couldn’t be.

I really do not understand.

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40 Answers

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Because the coal mining communities are in appalachia. Everyone is poor, out of work and getting a little desperate. Coal mining was a source of employment for those with little to no education. Most of those communities are destitute and people often cannot afford to leave.

Strauss's avatar

It’s the only job there, and the industry that has supported communities for generations. You can’t blame someone for not wanting to leave the area that’s been home for generations.

funkdaddy's avatar

Experienced specialized laborers probably make more than you think. (or I’m always surprised anyway)... it seems 60–70k isn’t unusual.

But beyond that, imagine you have a job that represents something. Lots of your family and friends do the same, honorable, job. It represents where you’re from, and who you are, and a lot of people have rejected that life, but not you.

Instead of coal miners, imagine it was farmers or cowboys. Offer a third generation farmer a nice desk job, even if the pay is better, the hours are better, and it’s more sustainable. They’ll probably consider it a sacrifice and last resort to take it. (not always, of course)... Same with longtime cowboys or ranchers. They’ve already made that choice.

The job is part of who they are and defines a lot of the other choices they’ve built their life around. It’s not like just going to an office 9 to 5 and leaving it there.

chyna's avatar

I live in WV which has a huge coal mining community. It’s good money and it’s all they know how to do without much education. Usually the miners are from a long line of coal miners and they don’t want to leave their families or their roots to the community, such as it is.

tinyfaery's avatar

@funkdaddy I’ve never chose tradition over being rational. Tradition is one huge factor in the destruction of the world. (Really, after I read The Lottery by Shirley Jackson in Jr. High I questioned all traditions.) I thought parents want their children’s lives to be better than theirs.

@Strauss Yes I can. And I do.

@chyna So you are saying these people prefer that their loved ones have nothing, work horrible jobs and live lives of destitution and illness, and do not want to leave the land that gives them nothing instead of living a better life?

chyna's avatar

They can’t leave. Although they make good money they don’t work all the time so the money has to last.
They mostly live in coal towns because coal mines are not near booming metropolitan areas. So they live in ramshackle homes that no one would buy if they could afford to move. You would be taking them out of the only environment they know. As I said, they are mostly from long lines of coal miners and their entire families live near by.
As an example, there was a horrible coal mine disaster called the Sago Mine disaster in 2006. 13 died, one lived. It was found to be the coal owners fault. No doubt the coal miner received a lot of money, but I think he still lives in or near the same town. He did not go back to work as a coal miner. I would’ve moved far away.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

@tinyfaery you can’t really blame them. You would be wrong to do so.
When coal mining was in swing after reasonable labor laws were enforced it was quite lucrative. People could rarely do better with a college education. When coal mining was throttled back they were islanded. Like mentioned it’s a skilled trade and starting from scratch at 45–50 years old with little financial resources or education is not easy with tight job markets. Damn near impossible really. One of the nearby coal communities they keep stealing the safety grounds from our substations. That does not even happen in the most drug infested parts of the inner city. It shows the level of desperation there.

Jeruba's avatar

I recently saw the 1999 movie October Sky, based on a true story. It takes place in a coal-mining town in West Virginia right after the Sputnik launch in 1957. There’s a lot of footage about miners and mining work, and the main character’s father is clearly proud of what he does. I knew a little something about coal mining before, but I gained a lot of insight from this movie, even though it’s not the main focus of the story.

I enjoyed the movie, by the way, and would recommend it. I thought it was just going to be a juvenile feelgood movie, but it was much more than that.

tinyfaery's avatar

My father in law joined the military to get the fuck out of WV. Now he is living in a beautiful house in CA, traveling the world and enjoying his retirement years. It can be done.

40–50 is hardly old anymore. If they could be trained to do something else, why wouldn’t they? It is not a decent job. It destroys people’s lives and the environment they are so attached to.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

The military will not enlist people over a certain age.

@Jeruba they filmed that movie in several communities I live near.

tinyfaery's avatar

^^ Totally missing the point.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

How do you know it’s so easy when you have not walked a single foot in their shoes. Clearly it is not since the problem is so widespread. The more intelligent and resourcefull people who are not tied down can sometimes leave. Many simply cannot. I just don’t think you realize what it’s like to be middle aged or elderly and responsible for people and things other than yourself.

tinyfaery's avatar

And neither can you.

You are a coal miner?

tinyfaery's avatar

I am middle aged. I have a para-professional job with no benefits. If I lose my job I just might have to start all over again. I grew up in the ghetto, with abusive parents and no one to support me once I turned 17. Most people where I lived are still there. They had children at ridiculously young ages and they are repeating the cycle. Not me. I got the fuck out, with no money or support. The only thing I had was my intelligence. So I guess these people are just stupid. Thanks for answering my question. GA.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Because they are the only jobs around. And no one bothers to ask “WHY?” No one bothers to notice the 3rd world parallel of an entire region condemned to perpetual poverty while trillions of dollars have been extracted from beneath the very feet of those doomed to suffer.

jca's avatar

A really good documentary about coal mining is 1976’s “Harlan County USA.” It talks about the coal miners’ strike in Harlan County.

I think it’s very easy to say “why don’t people do this” and talk about all the logical reasons why we think they should do something. However, that’s not taking into account other things (many mentioned above): age, tradition, location of their families, love of the place they live in. Also it takes a lot of money to move, and a lot of energy (packing all your sh**).

I’m sure many have left for more opportunities, joined the military, gone to college, moved to cities, etc. I’m willing to bet there are less young people willing to go into coal mining now than in the past, and less people available to go into coal mining, despite the population rising.

@tinyfaery: You talk about what you did and it’s commendable. However, you don’t have children and family so you’re more mobile than someone who may have adult children, grandchildren, etc. living in the area. I don’t think it’s appropriate to say someone who doesn’t do what you did is “just stupid.” Maybe to you it’s stupid, but there are more reasons for them not do to it, apparently.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

So WTF were you wanting us to say? Obviously you did not have any family ties. Getting the fuck out made sense for you. It does not work that way when you have to care for elderly parents who either cannot leave or refuse to. I mean people have situations different than your own.

tinyfaery's avatar

@jca @ARE_you_kidding_me called them stupid. Not me.

tinyfaery's avatar

I have a wife. I have a niece and a nephew whose mom was so fucked up I cared for them a lot in their youth. My nephew even lived with me for a time. I had a mom with MS and I am the only one who ever did anything to help her. I also had grandparents who needed help towards the end. I did all these things. I had no car and traveled any way I could to reach them. AND, I still did not repeat the cycle. You have no idea what other people go through, either. You are judging me for judging them. Hmm…

jca's avatar

@tinyfaery: You wrote: “I am middle aged. I have a para-professional job with no benefits. If I lose my job I just might have to start all over again. I grew up in the ghetto, with abusive parents and no one to support me once I turned 17. Most people where I lived are still there. They had children at ridiculously young ages and they are repeating the cycle. Not me. I got the fuck out, with no money or support. The only thing I had was my intelligence. So I guess these people are just stupid. Thanks for answering my question. GA.”

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I mean shit good for you. I never called them stupid, you did. You asked a question and we all answered it. I think it’s pretty obvious to most of us why this is the case. Were you expecting some massive revelation or did you simply come here for a pat on the back for how awesome it was that you got out of a bad situation? Getting out of that was awesome but not everyone can or has the desire to especially if it’s all they have ever known. Were you a military brat? If so you probably moved around a lot and got to see broader horizons. I was that way myself. I sure as shit could have been stuck where I grew up had that not been the case.

canidmajor's avatar

@tinyfaery, you asked “why” and people told you why. You said “I really do not understand” and people tried to help you understand.
Your life experience is just different from others. Some people have much stronger ties to family and community than you do. Where you see yourself as brave and strong and resilient, others don’t.
Instead of continuing to declare that you would have done/did things differently, appreciate that for so many those decisions that you see so clearly are not so clear for others.
Uprooting an extended family (many of whom are frightened of the unknown)and moving and finding a new community and new livelihood is hard under optimum conditions. Doing it when you and yours are under-educated and know nothing else is emotionally almost impossible.

jca's avatar

This seems like a place to post your opinion and then argue with everyone who has differing opinions.

kritiper's avatar

The money. What else could they do if they tried another line of work? They have families. Mortgages. Children. What would you do if you had to stop working in your career and do something else, and everybody else in town was doing the same thing at the same time you were??? Think about it!

jca's avatar

I just googled “Coal miner salary” and I got this link that shows $23. per hour. That’s in a place where others who don’t have college educations make minimum.

jca's avatar

Edit above: That’s “average” wage for a coal miner. Still not bad. Maybe they start at 15 or whatever. Still better than a job at Walmart.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Even $15/hr with benefits is a pretty good living in rural areas in appalachia. Walmart can’t offer that if there was even one nearby. You’re lucky to see a dollar general in some of those places.

cazzie's avatar

The Sago accident was from lightning. I know of the group that investigated it and it was found to be caused by lightning. It was a total freak accident. But now they know that electrical damage underground is from lightning strikes and it is actually currently helping find a patch to a problem that is happening. I know someone helping out the US National Parks Service to fix their cave lighting that keeps getting knocked out by lightning strikes. :)

Coloma's avatar

Some have left I’m sure and others have not for all the reasons mentioned by others here.
Everyone has given logical, reasonable and true answers to this question, if you want to take your usual angry and defensive position of now hating on everyone for their answers @tinyfaery , well, you go right ahead, it’s hardly surprising given it’s your standard and predictable response 99.9% of the time here.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

I think the owner of the coal mine (Arch Coal now bankrupt) that visited a certain Cheeto in Florida last week will be happy happy HAPPY.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Good question. It’s all many of them know. Afraid to step away from the known.

chyna's avatar

@cazzie I had never heard that explanation. I always heard it was an explosion and then the miners were killed by lack of seals on the mine and were overcome by carbon monoxide.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@tinyfaery It’s fear, a very powerful force.

janbb's avatar

I read a book recently called “Hillbilly Legacy” which is a memoir by JD Vance. It is only one man’s experience but gave me some insight into Kentuckians and work. Apparently many did leave the mines for manufacturing jobs in Ohio after the war and got screwed again when industry died in the US. The culture in which Vance grew up was very different from mine. He went in the militarygot a law degree fromYale and is in finance in the Bay Area. I recently read that he is moving back to Ohio to start an addiction treatment program. But not everyone has his ability or drive.

FWIW, I’m sure that some would embrace retraining and for some it’s too late. But it’s a moot point at the moment with the Trumpies in power who are happy to rape the earth.

In the 30s, the OKies fled the Dust Bowl and moved to California to pick fruit. As I said above, many moved from the hills and mines to industrial jobs in the Midwest. Where are the jobs that people can move to now?

Strauss's avatar

I witnessed an influx of families and working folks from the South in the Chicago area in the mid-sixties. One of those families was my our door neighbor for a few years.

jca's avatar

@ARE_you_kidding_me: Yes, I definitely agree with you. $15 an hour in the deep South is great and probaby way more than any other starting wage, even someone with a college diploma.

Coloma's avatar

$15.00 an hour in California might as well be $4.00 an hour. haha

jca's avatar

@Coloma: Yeah, here too.

cazzie's avatar

@chyna, There was a sealed off section where gas had built up, but when they sealed it up, they didn’t remove the wiring. They never do. It isn’t seen as necessary. When lightning struck, it followed the wire down and into the sealed off section, igniting the gas, causing the explosion. They never realised this happened underground, but it now explains quite a bit of underground issues.

I don’t know how the miners died. It could have been carbon monoxide, but the explosion itself was caused by lightning. The miners were not stuck by lightning, if that’s what you thought I was saying.

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