The number of coal jobs in Eastern Kentucky dropped significantly in the second quarter of 2019, according to a report from the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.
Jobs in the region went down 15.2 percent compared to the same period in 2018 and 15.9 percent from the first three months of the year, according to the report released this week.
Preliminary numbers show there were 3,367 people employed in the coal industry in Eastern Kentucky from April through June of this year, the report said.
Coal employment in Harlan County, perhaps the hardest hit by the shutdown of a major producer, Blackjewel L.L.C. , dropped by 53.7 percent in the second quarter of this year compared to a year earlier.
The final paychecks Blackjewel wrote to miners bounced, leaving them scrambling to make ends meet.
It’s now been more than two months since many of those miners received a legitimate paycheck.
“They’re still struggling and trying to keep their heads above water,” said Donna Pace, head of the Harlan County Community Action Agency, which helps people with job services and unemployment payments.
The agency has helped coordinate donations to the miners.
Many have signed up to train for other jobs, but some have moved away to get work, Pace said.
“We can’t afford to lose any more population,” she said.
Bell and Floyd counties saw coal jobs increase over the same period in 2018, but the gains weren’t enough to overcome losses across Eastern Kentucky.
Coal jobs increased in Western Kentucky from a year earlier, but not enough to counter the big drop in Eastern Kentucky.
Statewide, coal-industry jobs were down 5.7 percent from a year earlier and 9.7 percent from the first quarter.
Employment from April 1 through June 30 averaged 5,942 for all of Kentucky.
The numbers sometimes change in subsequent reports because the state gets additional information.
For example, the initial estimate for the average number of jobs statewide in 2018 was 6,409. That number was since revised up to 6,443.
Coal production in Eastern Kentucky totaled 3.6 million tons in the second quarter, down 16.9 percent from the comparable period in 2018, but was up 2.6 percent in Western Kentucky.
Relatively cheap natural gas has taken power-plant customers away from the coal industry in Kentucky and other states.
The industry also faced headwinds from proposals in the Obama Administration to beef up environmental standards and from other factors such as rising availability of renewable energy.
President Donald Trump vowed to revive the coal industry.
There has been growth nationwide under his watch, from 50,600 jobs in December 2016 to as many as 52,900 earlier this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The preliminary figure for July edged down to 52,100.
Kentucky hasn’t shared in the growth, however.
The number of coal jobs in the state averaged 6,609 in 2017, Trump’s first year on the job, but slipped to 6,443 for 2018, then to 5,942 in the most recent quarter.