Letcher County coal employment has continued to plummet over the past year, ending the third quarter with just 17 coal jobs here.
The figure for the third quarter is down 81.72 percent from the prior year, but up from 14 jobs from the previous quarter. There were 1,679 coal jobs in Letcher County in 1988, the oldest county figures available.
The figures come from the Kentucky Quarterly Coal Report, a publication of the Kentucky Energy and Environmental Cabinet that tracks coal jobs and coal production in all coal-producing counties in the state.
The report shows only three eastern Kentucky counties — Knox, Bell and Johnson — saw any increase year over year. Overall, the Eastern Kentucky Coalfields employment was down 5.91 percent from the previous quarter, and down 36.66 percent from a year before. The total number of coal jobs in the 19-county region was 2,151. The Western Coalfields employment was down 34.53 percent over a year earlier, but up 11.84 percent for the quarter, for a total of 1,682 jobs spread over eight counties.
Most of the coal jobs added statewide last quarter were in underground mining operations. Surface mining jobs are down 7.76 percent over the last quarter. Statewide, all coal jobs are down 35.74 percent from the third quarter of 2019.
Statewide, mining jobs are down to 3,833 in the third quarter of 2020, down from 6,675 in the third-quarter of 2017 when first-year President Donald Trump promised to “bring back coal.” Since the third quarter of 2013, jobs are down from 18,721.
While jobs continue to fall, eastern Kentucky production in the third quarter was up 13.36 percent in the third quarter, but still 42.45 percent lower than the third quarter of 2019. Letcher County production was up 2.35 percent over the third quarter of the previous year, and up 174.39 percent over the second quarter of this year. Mines in the county produced 19,649 tons from July to September.
Statewide, production in the third quarter was 6,439,328 tons, down from 27,594,717 tons in the third quarter of 2011. In 1988, Letcher County alone produced more than 8.7 million tons of coal.