Coal Production Shifting to Northern West Virginia

Nothing highlights the shift in Appalachian coal production more than Boone and Marshall County, West Virginia. For as long as I can remember, Boone County was always #1 in coal production. Today,  Marshall County, which is located in the north-west part of the state, is the state’s biggest coal producer at 17.2 million tons (compared to 15.8 million in Boone County.)

As we’ve highlighted several times over the years, this development should not come as a shock. In fact, projections from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) have consistently shown central Appalachian coal production falling steeply while northern Appalachian coal production slightly increasing over the coming years.  And this is exactly what has happened.

One reason for this shift is that southern West Virginia steam coal is running out and it is becoming too expensive to produce. As the chart below shows, coal mining productivity has declined dramatically over the last decade in West Virginia. While this is good news for coal miners in the short-run because it means more jobs (ironic that coal mining jobs were higher in 2011 and 2012 than they were at any any time over the last 18 years and yet the “war on coal” campaign is stronger than ever), it eventuality means higher coal prices and stiffer competition that will reduce employment in the medium and long run. As the chart below shows, there is an inverse relationship between coal mining employment and productivity. As productivity declines, employment goes up. 

Coal Employment & Productivity

 A closer look below reveals that coal production in the northern part of West Virginia has slightly increased (49.3 to 49.9 million tons) from 2008 to 2012. Since 2000 it has grown by about seven million tons (42.8 million).* Southern coal production, however, has dropped from 116 million tons in 2008 to just 79 million in 2012. In 2000, the southern counties produced almost as much as the entire state in 2012 at 126.6 million tons. The northern counties also are making up a much larger chunk of the state’s coal production, growing from 25 percent in 2000 to 39 percent in 2012. Meanwhile, the southern part of the state has seen a decline from 75 percent in 2000 to 61 percent in 2012.

norhtsouthcoal production

While both coal-producing regions have seen sharp drops in productivity between 2008 and 2012, the decline in productivity in southern West Virginia has been nearly twice as acute.  In 2008, the annual tons produced per miner in the southern coalfields were 7,489 compared to just above 5,000 in 2012 – a drop of 32 percent. In the northern part of the state, the decline from 9,169 to 7,731 was only about half or 15.7 percent.  The sharper drop in productivity  – and the overall lower rates of productivity  – in the southern coalfields highlights how uncompetitive the market is for central Appalachian coal compared to coal produced in the northern part of the state. 


While both regions experienced job gains during this four-year period – partly because of a decline in productivity – most of the job gains where in the northern part of the state. From 2008 to 2012, the number of direct coal miners increased from 5,337 to 6,460 in northern West Virginia – a gain of 1,083 – compared to an increase of just 86 jobs (15,550 to 15,626) in the southern coalfields.  The number of coal-mining jobs in the southern part of the state is most likely much lower today. According to state data, there were nearly 2,400 fewer coal miners in West Virginia in December 2013 than in 2012.

With the drop in coal production and employment in southern West Virginia, political leaders and other stakeholders should engage in a constructive conversation about the future the region. Just recently, more than 1,700 people gathered in Pikeville, Kentucky to do just that.

Instead of waiting like Kentucky until we lose 6,500 coal mining jobs, our state leaders need to take action NOW.  Because without a plan for the future, and without a broad recognition that coal mining is not going to rebound in southern West Virginia anytime soon, we are likely to see our state’s economic problems go from bad to worse.


 *Southern Coal Counties: Boone, Clay, Fayette, Greenbrier, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan McDowell, Mercer, Mingo, Nicholas, Raleigh, Wayne, and Wyoming.

 *Northern Coal Counties: Barbour, Braxton, Brooke, Grant, Harrison, Marion, Marshall, Mason, Mineral, Mononghalia, Ohio, Preston, Randolph, Taylor, Tucker, Upshur, and Webster.

Budget Beat – December 20, 2013

Thank You for Voting! Future Fund and Higher Minimum Wage Make the Top Five

This week many of you voted on the issues you want the Our Children Our Future campaign to focus on during the 2014 Legislative Session. Two of the WVCBP’s major initiatives, Increasing the Minimum Wage and Creating a Future Fund, made it into the top five! Please take this next easy step and let your legislators know that you support the OCOF campaign’s efforts.

West Virginia One of Few That Will Experience Budget Cuts

West Virginia is one of just seven states facing budget cuts this year. While most states’ economies are recovering from the Great Recession, West Virginia is now paying for tax cuts of the past through reductions in funding for important programs like higher education. Read more in Sean’s blog post.

Want to Know More About What Budget Cuts Will Mean This Year? ~ Budget Breakfast – January 22, 2014

Want to know more about how the governor’s budget will impact you and the work you do? What lies ahead as across-the-board budget cuts seem likely again this year? Join us on Wednesday, January 22 from 8AM-9AM for the WVCBP’s first Budget Breakfast. Ted will break through the jargon and explain how changes to the budget will affect programs crucial to low- and middle-income families. Save the date – registration information will be sent to you soon!

Helping Appalachia Transition

At the Shaping Our Appalachian Transition (SOAR) conference last week in Kentucky many ideas were discussed on how to help the region plan for the years ahead. SOAR was started by Kentucky Congressman Harold Rogers and Governor Steve Beshear who appointed more than 40 business and education leaders to guide the initiative. The conference was a chance for others to offer their ideas. Sessions were held on tourism, entrepreneurship and other issues. The idea of a Future Fund was discussed, along with other ideas. The WVCBP has advocated this approach before, including as a recommendation in State of Working West Virginia 2012 – In Depth: the Gas Boom and Coal Bust. Creating a taskforce in West Virginia of economic development leaders, along with other community partners, could help pave the way for a smooth transition as the coal industry’s economic dominance subsides.

Free Movie – Inequality for All – January 14, 2014

The WVCBP, along with many sponsors, is proud to bring “Inequality for All” to the Culture Center on January 14, 2014. Please plan to attend this free screening and discussion on how the widening income gap is hurting the nation’s economy and its workers.

Inequality for All evite

Happy Holidays from All of Us at the WVCBP!

Photo from our holiday dinner: Sean (with Liam), Brandon (with Lucia), Ted (with Lucy)

babies 12.17.13

43 States Aren’t Facing Budget Cuts, West Virginia’s Not One of Them

The National Association of Budget Officers (NASBO) has released the Fall 2013 edition of its Fiscal Survey of the States. When we last checked in on the NASBO report, West Virginia was one of eight states cutting its general budget in FY 2014 from Fy 2013, with the second largest cut among the states. 

With the fall update, the budget outlook for most states has improved. Most states are experiencing revenue gains, with tax collections outperforming projections, and overall modest growth and stability. However, West Virginia is still only one of seven states that is projected to reduce its budget in FY 2014, with the 4th biggest reduction.


Source: NASBO 

Why is West Virginia cutting its budget when so many other states don’t have to? West Virginia has a clear and undeniable revenue problem. To date, general revenue collections are down more than $54 million from this point last year, and are only expected to be up by about $32 million from FY 2013 when FY 2014 is over, an increase of only 0.8%. And considering that the general revenue fund saw virtually zero growth from FY 2012 to FY 2013, that’s not a good place to be at all.

So what’s the reason for our revenue problem? It can’t be easily blamed on our “sluggish economy.” Last year, West Virginia was in the top 10 among states in private sector GDP growth.


Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

And while that growth may have occurred in FY 2012 and FY 2013, more up-to-date data do not show growth problems. Personal income growth, while slow, has been growing steadily throughout 2013, but revenue growth continues to struggle.


 Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

So if revenue continues to fall even as the economy grows, what could be the culprit? You guessed it, tax cuts. Recent tax cuts cost an estimated $316 million in FY 2013, and will grow even bigger by the time FY 2014 ends. And when you look at which revenue source is struggling the most, and which taxes have been cut, the conclusion becomes fairly obvious.

Budget Beat – December 13, 2013

Much of West Virginia Remains Owned by Out-of-State Corporations

This week the WV Center on Budget and Policy and the American Friends Service Committee revisited a 1970s study looking at who owns West Virginia’s private land. While large out-of-state corporations still own much of the state’s land, timber interests, not coal companies, are now the biggest players. The full analysis was released this week and covered by the Charleston Gazette, the Huntington Herald-Dispatch and West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Recommendations from the report, including greater transparency of tax data to ensure these corporations pay their fair share of taxes, were included in this Gazette editorial.


Budget Should Grow the Middle Class

With the 2014 Legislative Session right around the corner soon the governor will release his budget for the upcoming fiscal year. With talks of more budget cuts looming, read more in Ted’s oped urging the governor to adopt a pro-middle class legislative agenda.

ted and lucy 12.12.13 filterTed and Lucy Boettner mingle with WVCBP coalition partners

Time to Raise the Minimum Wage

Ted took this issue to statewide talk radio last week. Listen here. And mark your calendars for January 14 when the WVCBP and our coalition partners bring ‘”Inequality for All” to the Culture Center for a free screening and discussion on the country’s widening income inequality.

Long-Term Unemployment Should Be Off the Chopping Block

Part of the latest budget deal coming out of Congress is the elimination of long-term unemployment benefits. Check out Sean’s blog post on why extending these important benefits should be part of the budget deal, especially for 16,000 West Virginians who rely on them.

He’s Our Hero

Nobody cares more about raising the minimum wage, helping the unemployed and taking care of West Virginia’s low-income kids and families than WVCBP board member Rick Wilson. Here he is receiving the Hero Award from the Our Children Our Future coalition today in Parkersburg (third in from the right).

Rick OCOF hero

Great Things Happening

  • Yesterday Appalachian Voices launched its new Energy Savings Action Center, a tool designed to help people save money and energy by promoting energy efficiency loan programs through their electric utility.
  • Want to know more about how many new jobs the Marcellus gas boom is bringing to West Virginia and its neighbors? Join us for a webinar on Friday, January 10 from 2-3PM. Registration open now. Read more in the Charleston Gazette and WV Public News Service on how the number of new jobs has been exaggerated by the gas industry.
  • The Black Ministerial Alliance is holding a health care enrollment session from 1 pm to 3 pm on Saturday, December 14th at the Metropolitan Baptist Church (205 Donnally Street) in Charleston. Come and find out what you need to know about the Affordable Care Act.

Final Note

As Nelson Mandela was laid to rest this week, we thought this piece was a a fitting tribute.

Why Extending Unemployment Benefits Should Be Part of the Budget Deal

The recent budget deal announced by leaders in Congress has left out one very important provision for those struggling to find work, the extension of emergency unemployment insurance benefits. On December 28, 1.3 million long term unemployed workers, including 16,000 West Virginians, will lose their unemployment benefits.

As I previously discussed here, these benefits increased the number of weeks that unemployed workers could collect unemployment insurance benefits. Now, the looming expiration comes at a time when long- term unemployment remains a big problem for the country. In fact, it is the long-term unemployed that are keeping the unemployment rate above pre-recession levels. As this chart shows, the unemployment rate of those who are unemployed for only a short period of time is back down to pre-recession levels. It is for those who go months without finding a job where the unemployment crisis lingers.


And for those who are unemployed, it is still very difficult to find a job. Currently there are still three unemployed workers for every job opening. And not only are the odds against them, the long-term unemployed often face discrimination from potential employers, creating a stigma for the workers and keeping them unemployed even longer.


As the above chart shows, the ratio of job seekers per job opening is worse now than its peak during the previous recession. Ending extended emergency unemployment benefits while the long-term unemployment rate is so high would be unprecedented. The current long-term unemployment rate is much higher than it was when any of the previous emergency extensions were ended.

11-20-13ui-f3 (1)

There are millions of workers struggling to find work in a still-fragile economy. Failure to extend federal unemployment programs would mean less spending by unemployed workers and their families, hurting the economy and threatening the weak recovery. Emergency benefits are an effective tool at helping both workers and the overall economy. 

Budget Beat – November 22, 2013

Marcellus Job Numbers Are Overestimated According to New Report

A new five-state collaborative was announced this week that will study the local impacts of gas drilling in the Marcellus and Utica formations. The group, of which the WVCBP is a member, released its first report and launched its website this week. Exaggerating the Employment Impacts of Shale Drilling: How and Why reports that the gas industry claimed inflated job growth in communities where drilling is occurring. For more, here’s Charleston Gazette coverage of the report. Look for more research from the Collaborative early next year.

Senator Manchin Votes No

This week Senator Joe Manchin voted against the appointment of Janet Yellen to be chairwomen of the Federal Reserve. Back in September the Institute for Women’s Policy Research – a strong ally of the WVCBP – sent a letter signed by 505 economists in 48 states (including West Virginia) in support of Yellen because of her desire to play an active role in creating jobs instead of just placating narrow banking interests. Fortunately, Yellen received enough votes in the Banking Committee and it appears she will be the next chair of the Federal Reserve. This is good news for working families in West Virginia.

Obamacare to Help Many in West Virginia, Especially Minority Populations

This week Brandon refuted a Charleston Daily Mail editorial slamming Obamacare. Read his blog post which dismantles the opinion piece point-by-point.

Thanks to Obamacare, many uninsured West Virginians will have access to affordable health care, especially racial and ethnic minorities. In fact, nearly all of West Virginia’s uninsured minority population is likely to qualify for assistance. Read much more in this report.

minority health figure 1

More Calls to Reform the Fiscal Note Process

In reaction to our paper on fiscal notes, two more West Virginia newspapers, the Martinsburg Journal and the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, support the creation of an independent legislative fiscal office to provide an unbiased look at the state’s fiscal note process.

Evidence Counts…But Apparently Not In Newspaper Editorials

The lead editorial that ran in the Charleston Daily Mail on Monday was…well, a bunch of malarkey. Or maybe it was hogwash. Either way, it was an inaccurate and misleading piece of partisan hackery (yes, I made that word up*) that was better suited for late-night talk radio and had no business being run in a reputable news source.


Through a number of suspicious and baseless claims, the editorial’s message was that the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, is “doomed to failure” because there was no Republican support of the bill when it was passed.  The editorial starts by citing several historical pieces of legislation that had bipartisan support and then points out that the ACA did not receive a Republican vote in either chamber.  This is the point where the facts end and the misleading begins. 

The first claim was that the ACA has cost 5 million people their insurance coverage rather than reducing the nation’s uninsured.  There is no basis in fact or actual evidence here because the truth is that the ACA will reduce the uninsured by an estimated 30 million Americans.  The Daily Mail is probably referring to the recent media attention regarding insurers who are discontinuing plans that do not meet the minimum standards required by the new law.  The ACA requires that all health insurance plans cover certain benefits like emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and preventive care while removing annual and lifetime benefit caps and limiting the amount that a policy holder can spend out of pocket in a given year.  All of the plans being canceled now were not up to snuff and did not contain some or any of these minimum standards.  However, these canceled policies do not mean that 5 million people will become uninsured.  In fact, all of these people will be able to shop for better health plans in the insurance Marketplaces and the majority of them will actually end up paying less!  West Virginia is a great example of the impact that the ACA will have on the rate of uninsured as we expect the number of uninsured West Virginians to drop from around 246,000 to about 76,000, a decrease of nearly 70 percent.


The next claim was that the ACA is making health insurance premiums “skyrocket in many areas.” Again, the Daily Mail ignores reality here and is making a completely baseless claim considering that premiums are expected to drop on average while healthcare cost growth is at a historic low.  Moreover, they are overlooking the fact that health insurance premiums increase annually and have for decades.  In fact, before President Obama was even the junior senator from Illinois, insurance premiums increased at a rate of nearly 10 percent per year on average.  Rule changes in the ACA are expected to increase premiums for some people, typically young healthy males, while decreasing premiums for others, typically older people and women.  On the whole, however, premiums in West Virginia are expected to drop 1.5 percent on average for people who get their insurance from a large employer and by over 40 percent for people who buy insurance on their own.  This claim also overlooks another inconvenient fact – three years after the passage of the ACA, the growth rate of healthcare costs in the United States is currently at an all-time low.  Data released earlier this year showed that healthcare costs are growing at the slowest rate they have since the data was first collected in the 1960s.  While there is no consensus among health economists attributing this slowdown to the ACA, it is still clear that this fact completely disproves the Daily Mail’s assertion.

The final, and probably most laughable, claim was that the ACA is causing people with pre-existing conditions to be dropped from their health plans.  Not only is this inaccurate, it’s actually the opposite of what is happening in reality.  This claim goes back to the previous inaccurate assertion about 5 million people losing their health insurance. As we discussed, there are people who currently have a health policy that will be canceled because it does not meet the new minimum standards required by the ACA, and yes, some of those people are going to have pre-existing conditions.  However, it does not mean they will become uninsured and, in fact, they will be guaranteed a health insurance policy wherever they want to purchase one.  For the first time in United States history, the ACA explicitly forbids any insurer from denying a person insurance due to their health status.  Estimates show that currently 13 to 20 percent of people applying for health insurance are denied policies because of a pre-existing condition yet beginning January 1, 2014, that rate will drop to zero.  ZERO. Hundreds of thousands of West Virginians have a pre-existing condition, from asthma to cancer to diabetes to heart disease.  Thanks to the ACA, none of them will ever be denied health insurance because of their condition, nor will they be charged more for it.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with disagreeing with something if you can support your stance with facts and evidence.  Within the ACA there are undoubtedly aspects with which you could argue and there are even some that I personally would challenge.  However, making up false and misleading claims to support your position is disingenuous.

Had I decided to stoop to the Daily Mail’s level in this response, I could’ve just summed it up this way: “Liar liar pants on fire!”

*Update: @kenwardjr pointed out that “hackery” is indeed an acceptable word, although Merriam-Webster defines it as an “Indian bullock cart” and Microsoft Word doesn’t believe it exists.  However, has my back, defining it as  “journalism: hackwork.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Budget Beat – November 15, 2013

Fiscal Notes Lacking in Accuracy, Not a Reliable Tool for State Legislators

Fiscal notes are intended to give legislators information on the financial impact of a particular bill and how much a new law will cost (or benefit) the state. They are the price tags attached to legislation. But do legislators rely on fiscal notes? This week the WVCBP released its results of survey on how lawmakers perceive West Virginia’s fiscal note process. Many did not have favorable feedback on the current system.

Coverage of the report this week: the Charleston Daily Mail, the Charleston Gazette, the Washington Post, the State Journal, and the Beckley Register-Herald. The Wheeling Intelligencer ran this endorsement saying that a Legislative Fiscal Office, an impartial agency to oversee the fiscal note process, would quickly pay for itself.

Levy Failure Holds Economy Back

Last Saturday Kanawha County voters shot down an increase of the excess school levy that would have helped fund schools and libraries. Opponents of the levy ran a very successful No New Taxes campaign but, per capita, West Virginians pay well below the national average in property taxes. Read more in Sean’s blog post

Clearing Up Obamacare Confusion

This week the Charleston Daily Mail reported on the number of West Virginians who will lose their current health insurance coverage due to the Affordable Care Act. If you are confused by the latest on the Obamacare roll-out, and want to know how it’s all affecting West Virginia, check out Brandon’s blog posts on what the first enrollment numbers look like and why there’s still plenty of time for people to sign up.

Unemployed Workers in West Virginia Losing Earned Benefits

In another blow to those hit hard by the Recession (on top of cuts to SNAP): cuts in unemployment benefits scheduled to take effect December 18. Read more here about how 16,000 workers in West Virginia would be affected.

Families are starting to feel the impact of state budget cuts. Residents in the Northern Panhandle this week had a chance to let their legislators know how their families are being directly affected.

Obamacare Is A Football Game That Hasn’t Kicked Off

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) enrollment figures released yesterday have apparently taken some people by surprise (which is a bit mystifying to me considering the absolute media saturation about the poorly functioning website for weeks). Enrollment numbers were low across most of the country, they were very low in West Virginia as well—only 174 people have selected a plan in the Marketplace.  Before people get all into their Chicken Little freakout mode, or opponents begin jumping up and down with glee squealing “I told you so!” like some 8 year old trying to get his little brother in trouble—here’s a bit of advice, take a step back, take a deep breath, and really think about what these numbers mean.

452_Pre_Game_at_Mountaineer_FieldMountaineer-Field                                    Waait a second!

        Oh no, no one’s here! Let’s all freak out!

In September before the Marketplaces even went live, Christine Ferguson, the Rhode Island insurance exchange director, compared early ACA enrollment to layaway, saying the “idea that people are going to do layaway purchasing three months out goes against the American way.” Personally, I wouldn’t and I’m far from the worst procrastinator that I know. I’ve also been to Wal-Mart late on Christmas Eve to see hundreds of people finishing (maybe even starting) their Christmas shopping!  Ms. Ferguson has a great point, but I think there’s an even better metaphor.

Obamacare is a football game that has yet to kickoff, but we’re still trying to guess how big the attendance will be hours before the game starts.  Judging the success or failure of Obamacare months before the insurance policies officially begin is like counting the people already in their seats at 9am for a noon kickoff.  It is insane to flip out (or celebrate) hours before gametime because there are only 174 people in the stands. 

Here’s what we do know, though. If Obamacare were Mountaineer Field, is the Blue Lot, busting at the seams with tailgaters waiting to head to the gate once gametime nears.  In its first 24 hours, had over 2.8 million unique visitors, that’s more than Twitter had users in its first 2 years! 

We also know that the ticket takers have been very disorganized and slow since the gates opened and only a few people that are in line to get in are able to do so at the moment, although there’s word that they’re already speeding things up.  Plus, you have until the end of the first quarter to get into the stadium, which is great for us procrastinating tailgaters who may want an extra hot dog or beer before heading into the game.

What we haven’t even considered yet either is the 55,000 or so people in West Virginia who have already been enrolled in West Virginia Medicaid.  This alone will have reduced the number of uninsured West Virginians by almost 25 percent.  (I couldn’t really figure out a way to include them in the football metaphor so let your imaginations run wild—one way or another, they’ll be helping to fill up that stadium.)

Obamacare Enrollment Numbers Are Finally In

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the enrollment figures for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for the first time today. Across the country, nearly 850,000 applications have been completed through the health insurance Marketplace, around 106,000 of which have enrolled in a health plan. In West Virginia, 174 individuals have selected a plan through the Marketplace, although nearly 4,000 applications have been completed.  These numbers do not include the nearly 60,000 working-age West Virginians who will be newly enrolled in the expanded Medicaid program beginning January 1, 2014. 

ACA Enrollment Numbers

Source: Health Insurance Marketplace: November Enrollment Report. November 13, 2013

The figures released by HHS today represent the first month of data from the opening of the website on October 1.  The rollout of the Marketplaces has been quite rocky to say the least and for several weeks HHS and the Obama administration have been trying to lower expectations for the initial enrollment numbers.  Originally, it was estimated that around half a million people would enroll in the first month. The majority, around 75 percent, of those who enrolled in a Marketplace plan did so through one of the 14 state-facilitated insurance exchanges, whose rollouts have generally gone much smoother than the federally run exchanges that West Virginia is a part of. 

Although the number of enrolled plans in West Virginia is low, it is not very surprising considering the small individual market in West Virginia, in addition to the myriad problems with the website. Nevertheless, open enrollment continues through March 31 of next year and anyone who is already insured or who enrolls in a plan by that date will not face a penalty.