Illinois has more coal reserves than any other state in the nation – some of the richest deposits in the world. At one time, more than 150,000 were employed in the coal industry in the Land of Lincoln – primarily in central and southern Illinois.
Many factors have contributed to coal’s decline and the huge drop in employment. For the past several decades, this job loss has been greatly accelerated by the restrictions imposed by the EPA in the name of clean air and water. OSHA has added burdensome guidelines that have negatively affected mining operations. Finally, there have been the environmentalists with their green agenda.
Today, less than 5,000 are employed in this once-dominant industry. The jobs lost were mostly unionized. The average hourly wage for a UMW worker is $27 an hour. A union man could support his family on his income – no reason for Mama to work outside the home to make ends meet; Daddy could do it all and do it with pride with his work ethic.
Most of downstate Illinois has never recovered from this staggering loss. In many communities, the economic base is old folks living on Social Security. The once prosperous towns and villages are now withering on the vine and are dying a slow death of economic strangulation.
All of this raises the questions of the economic/human cost of job loss vs. the perceived benefits of federally imposed clean air and water standards, OSHA rules, and the environmental agenda.
Surely, there can be a compromise or trade-off between the federal bureaucracy, with all its rules, regulations and compliance issues, and those seeking employment in the mining industry.
It is interesting to note over the past 8 years, the jobs created in our economy were, for the most part, entry-level service industry positions paying significantly less than $27 an hour.
Note to readers: Walter C. Krug Jr. is a former Dixon resident.