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Appalachia’s Employment Struggle

J.D. Vance’s family was not the only family to struggle with employment shifts in Appalachia. This CNBC article follows the story of Tony Bowling following changing times in the employment industry in Appalachia.

Tony Bowling was born and raised in Hazard, a small town in Kentucky. Along with many of the others who live there, he was employed in the coal industry.

The Appalachia region. CC Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“‘Every male on both sides of my family, going back at least three generations, worked in the mines,'” said Bowling.

Unfortunately, Bowling was laid off in 2012, due to a decline in the coal industry across the country over the past ten years. The coal company that he worked for was shut down completely, and his company was not the only one to do so. Bowling enrolled in a technical college in Hazard two years later to pursue a career as an electrical lineman, and this new employment route has been a successful move for Bowling.

“‘I’m making more money now than I ever did in the mines,'” Bowling explained. He is also an instructor in the program on weekends.

Bowling’s story appears to have a positive ending. However, thousands of other coal miners in the Appalachia area remain unemployed.

“‘We’re still dealing with the aftermath of layoffs in the coal industry,'” said Michael Cornett, director of agency expansion and public relations of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program. “‘You don’t recover from the loss of 13,000 coal industry jobs [in eastern Kentucky] since 2011 overnight.'”

Although there is hope in new careers for people like Bowling that are created for individuals who are affected by the decline in the coal industry, most of the positions are out of town and require a large amount of travel, something not everyone can do. Lots of previous coal miners also lack college degrees since their previous positions did not require one.

Coal mining has been a career for many individuals in the Appalachia region throughout history. CC Image Courtesy to Flickr.

Coal mining has been a career that has been passed down through many generations in the Appalachia region. Along with its vast amount of history comes a sense of pride in the job. Although there is an increase in new job opportunities, for those who have grown up with mining as a part of their lives, it is more than simply a job.

“‘There’s a sense of pride and purpose, and nothing to be ashamed of,'” said Cornett. “‘To see the industry downturn tears at the cultural roots of how people perceive themselves and where they live, because it pulls the rug out from underneath you.'”

 

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office