Saturday, February 4, 2017

Coal Mining and Job Growth

In January an estimated 227,000 jobs were created.  That's good news!  The official jobless rate actually inched up to 4.8%, but that's also good news as that means people who had "dropped out of the work force" are now actively looking for jobs again - because they believe there are jobs to be had.

With the labor market still slack, however (because not everyone who could work is yet gainfully employed), wage gains were depressed, as we've all known for awhile, and is not welcome news.  That's the story of the Obama years job-wise: impressive employment gains but a continued deterioration of working-class incomes (a trend which stretches back to the Reagan years).

With regard to manufacturing specifically, 5,000 new jobs were created in January but the estimate for manufacturing jobs created in December 2016 were revised downwards.  And on the minimum wage, there's this nugget of info:

At the lower end of the pay scale, local minimum-wage increases — ranging from as small as 5 cents an hour in Florida and Alaska to $1.95 an hour in Arizona — affected approximately 4.3 million workers across 19 states in January. The widest impact was felt in Arizona, California and Washington, where more than 1 in 10 workers got a raise.

The whole report is short and worth reading.  But for now I want to turn to some other recent news.

The Senate just voted to reverse the Stream Protection Rule, which was a late-era Obama administration move intended to, well, protect our nation's streams.  It would have protected 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests from deleterious effects of coal mining debris.

As the son of a fly fisherman, and a fellow who likes nature, I feel pretty strongly about protecting our nation's streams.  But, you know, I'm not a radical.  I can see a potential case for destroying a stream if it insures good-paying jobs for a sizable number of people.  It's sad to see a stream go but if it keeps some families afloat, it's worth it, right?

Therefore I feel it's worth pointing out that the Stream Protection Rule was estimated to, according to a report issued by the Congressional Research Service, jeopardize 590 coal mining jobs in Appalachia.

That's less than  0.3% of the jobs created in January alone.

Now, let's assume for the sake of argument that the CRS is lying, and the job losses will be ten times higher.  That's still only 3% of the jobs created in January.  What if the CRS is lying so egregiously that the Stream Protection Rule would result in a hundred times the estimated job losses?  That's still only 30 percent of all the jobs created in one month alone.

The report also makes clear that even if the Stream Protection Rule were never passed, the coal industry as a whole - which the report states employs only 90,000 people directly - was due to shrink by around 15,000 jobs anyways.  (I'm not sure over what time period, to be perfectly clear).

Coal industry jobs are frequently union jobs and pay decently.  I don't want to toss them away like so much rubbish.  Still, given what we know about the destructive effects of coal mining on our environment, I have to wonder: is the coal industry worth saving?  It sure seems like the answer is "no".

Tell that to the struggling coal miner, you say.  Ok!  In the words of President Donald Trump: "You're fired."

There is no denying that unionized coal workers earn more than their non-unionized counterparts who install solar panels.  Still, the difference appears to be chiefly not one of industry but of organization.  Consider the following from UC Berkeley (anarchists and hippies - can't trust them!) Labor Center report.  Emphases added mine:

As there are two main types of solar, there also are two types of solar installation jobs in California. The utility-scale union path offers comprehensive training, robust benefits, a decent wage floor and a route up the career ladder, and, as a result, more job security in the volatile construction market. On the rooftop side, the data is much more limited and less consistent. Overall, smaller-scale rooftop installation jobs offer lower wages, fewer opportunities for career advancement, and more limited benefits when compared with utility-scale solar construction jobs. We also note that workers whose skills are limited to rooftop solar installation are subject to the large fluctuations in the solar segment of the construction market, with little to fall back on, whereas utility-scale workers generally gain a much broader skill set through apprenticeship and can work on many types of green and other construction projects.

When workers unionize, they create better jobs for themselves and their compatriots.  When unions are broken, job quality suffers.  It's really that simple.

We can, and should, jettison the entire coal industry, keep our streams and forests safe and clean, and hire a new generation of manufacturing workers to install solar panels and perform other eco-friendly work.  Critically, those workers be organize.  These new "green" workers will have to be union workers.

I suppose I've gone on long enough for now.  The national "right to work" law, as Orwellian as anything else in the books, will have to wait for another post.

Everyone enjoy the Super Bowl, which this year is between these @#&@(ing guys again and some other team.

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