A New Role Awaits Men in Coal Country

In one Kentucky county, it's women who bring home the bacon
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 15, 2019 2:00 PM CDT
How Coal Country Is Quietly Changing
In this Oct. 16, 2014 photo, unemployed coal miner Jeremy Adams, 26, right, sits with his 15-month-old son Christopher and wife Tiffany Cox, 26, as they wait for a school bus to drop off Cox's two daughters from school in Lynch, Ky.   (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Welcome to Letcher County in Kentucky, where coal's decline is changing time-honored gender roles. As men struggle to find work, women are entering a field in need of people—health care—and bringing home relatively small but still invaluable paychecks, the New York Times reports. "The mines have shut down and the women have gone to work," says a United Steelworkers official. "It's not complicated at all." Statistically, true: Letcher County has lost over a thousand coal mine jobs in a decade, as the work force went from three-fifths male to majority female. But it's not always simple for couples grappling with change. For one thing, many men who went from coal jobs to nothing fell into the yawning pit of the opioid crisis, per a July report in the Washington Post.

Others are struggling to accept new roles in a land where workers have long been muscle-bound, dust-covered men in overalls. "To be honest, I wasn't real crazy about it to start," says the husband of Amanda Lucas, who studied hard to become a respiratory therapist—a job that provides health insurance but not the same money her husband earned in the mines. In a tragic twist, the region's opioid crisis and mine-related illnesses are fueling the need for health care, but Lucas sees herself as giving back. "[Miners] helped us to establish everything around here, and now I can help them," she says. Such gender reversals have hit the region before during coal downturns, but this feels different: "All these men, they just don’t know what’s about to happen," says a female resident. (More coal mining stories.)

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