As Harlan County residents kick off the Labor Day weekend, many are shaking their heads wondering where to turn to look for work.
The county sadly has remained near the top of the state’s unemployment lists for many months now, with Harlan County actually recording the highest jobless rate during July at 17.2 percent. This is an honor that we would much rather bestow elsewhere.
As a result, it is well documented that our entire community — whether you are working in mining, health care, education, private business or any other occupation — is suffering.
A recent post on his Facebook page by local resident Scott Farmer is indicative of attitudes being heard regarding next year’s elections for a host of the top offices for the legislature, county and cities. Himself a laid off coal miner, Farmer stated in part:
“I’m ready to hear ideas, numbers, strategies and forecasts on getting us out of this mess. I’m ready to see people reach across the tables to work for a common goal, nope, ain’t happening, so far. If you want my support, you better have a plan.”
I think it goes without saying that many are frustrated. Miners who have worked long, hard years have no prospects for jobs at this time. Many of these same miners have, or will soon, exhaust their unemployment compensation benefits. We shudder when thinking of what is next for them and their families. The support industries are seeing the same scenario.
According to data released by the state, Harlan County’s 17.2 percent rate of unemployment resulted from having 9,175 of its people working and 1,906 out of work and actively seeking employment. The latter figure does not account for the hundreds and hundreds of residents who are unemployed but have exhausted their jobless benefits.
Sadly, those are no longer counted or included in these figures so that we have a true understanding of where we really are. We believe the figure would exceed the rate of about 50 percent determined by a study released by the University of Kentucky Appalachian Center some 30 years ago.
Farmer further states in his post:
“It will never cease to amaze me, how in an era where we can research every side of a subject, we choose to blindly follow every sound byte, or generated number, or promise coming out of someone’s mouth. Sorry I don’t roll like that!”
Maybe we should all think about our situation and ask to see those plans, pressure those who can make the plans and implement them to have an immediate impact to turn our economy around and stop the loss of our population. Dependence upon government assistance programs will grow as our unemployment figures persist at the high levels.
A vital component of anyone’s plan must be to limit the dwindling coal severance tax dollars we are now receiving to those projects designed to provide the infrastructure for creating jobs through new industry and entrepreneurship. The time has come that our state and county officials can no longer distribute these precious dollars to hundreds of groups or organizations to guarantee survival on hopes that better days are around the corner. As we did a few Saturday’s ago, we commend Rep. Leslie Combs for her recent efforts to educate our region on what must take place to overcome the downturn in the coal industry. She showed leadership and courage saying the things she did.
If we don’t join forces and do something now, we will continue to see our family, friends and neighbors remain or become unemployed. We may find ourselves in the same predicament.
We welcome and encourage you in the days and months ahead to share your thoughts and suggestions as letters to the editor on where we need to go and how we should get there. You could be the vital link to the successful plan.
Hopefully, next year’s Labor Day can be marked with a true celebration in Harlan County.