Joel Bowen slips slowly down a telephone pole, his boots fixed with little metal spears to grip the wood. “It’s just like starting all over again, but I figure a couple of years the money will start rolling in better,” he says, his face dripping with sweat from the Kentucky humidity. “It has to be better on my health. I won’t be breathing in the coal dust and the rock dust no more.”
At 48, after spending years below ground in the coal mines, Bowen is preparing to work in the sky. He’s enrolled in a 12-week program co-sponsored by the Hazard Community and Technical College and the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, an effort to find new work for some of the thousands of coal miners who have been laid off in recent years.
Most of the men in the program are leaving coal reluctantly. Although the outside world may see mining as dangerous, backbreaking work, coal is woven into the fabric of life in eastern Kentucky, and jobs in the industry pay well and provide plenty of camaraderie.
“I loved it when I was in the coal mines. I’m third generation. I’ve done it my whole life,” says Gabriel Smith. But after being laid off for the fourth time not long ago, he figured it was time to leave.
“I have a wife. I have two children. I have a third baby on the way — actually just due in one month — and this is my way of trying to get back on my feet,” Smith says.
For the rest of this article, click here: http://knpr.org/npr/2016-09/eastern-kentucky-tries-keep-former-coal-miners-leaving