In Benwood, West Virginia, money comes in as coal goes out.
“They can’t mine it fast enough,” said Benwood Economic Development Director Frank Longwell. “That’s how we pay our bills here in the community.”
Longwell remembers when coal mines were so popular, they were turning away job applicants. You can make $100,000 a year mining coal in Benwood. But coal miners are going through a hiring shortage, which is hurting production.
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“The main complaint that I hear on a daily basis: ‘We need people,’” Longwell said. “Some of the production does get cut back because they don’t have the people.”
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Coal mining is a demanding job. Benwood is losing coal miners because of that.
“It’s just too much,” Longwell said. “Twelve hours, six days a week. That kind of thing.”
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And they might not be coming back.
“Getting enough sufficient levels of labor into those mines to be able to increase production, they just can’t really do it that much,” said West Virginia University business and economic research expert Brian Lego.
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As a result, companies have had to cut back. Global demand for coal increased by 6% last year and could rise even more this year.
“We’re seeing prices climbing rather aggressively over the past several months,” Lego said. “Due in large part to Ukraine, but also to the global growth in general.”