In Central Appalachia, women are dominating the workforce like never before. After an epidemic of coal mine bankruptcies due to a push towards renewable energy sources, the men who historically have performed such labor are suddenly out of work. In order to keep their families afloat, women of Appalachia and the industrial South have flooded the workforce.
Blackjewel, one of the largest coal mining operators in the United States, filed for bankruptcy in early July and abruptly shut down their mines across. Blackjewel employs over 1,700 workers across Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Wyoming. Suddenly, paychecks started to bounce, and employees were left with no income to pay off debts or cover living expenses. Robert Godby, energy economist at the University of Wyoming, reported, “It was a kind of out-of-the-blue outcome. People woke up that morning thinking they had a job. And by the end of the day they didn’t.”
This is not an isolated incident; the industry has reduced their number of employed miners by over 30,000 the past decade. Families across Coal Country needed another source of income, so the wives of miners began to seek employment. These areas are also hotspots for opioid addiction and chronic disease, so women were welcomed with open arms into the healthcare industry.
“We wouldn’t have half the nurses that we do if we still had coal mines,” said Ciara Bowling, a 25-year-old hospital worker. Before the coal bust, Bowling dreamed of marrying a miner. “Take care of your husband, that’s all you want to do,” she said, “But when that doesn’t work out, you’ve got to go to work.”
“Men has been able to do whatever the hell they want for so long while women had to sit in a chair and keep their legs closed and be nice and polite. Now they don’t have to.”