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Sources of Labor Productivity Variation in the U.S. Surface Coal Mining Industry, 1960-1976

Our paper analyzes the sources of labor productivity variation in U.S. bituminous coal surface mining from 1960 to 1976. The coal mining industry was among the first to experience a prolonged decline in labor productivity in the post-World War II period. In surface mining nationally, labor productivity in 1977 was 26.6 tons per worker-day, or 28 percent less than the peak of 36.7 tons per worker-day achieved in 1973. Moreover, in several major coal-producing states, the decline began much earlier and was more dramatic. For example, in West Virginia (the first state to experience declining productivity) the loss in productivity between 1965, the year in which productivity in the state peaked, and 1976 was nearly 52 percent. Eastern Kentucky experienced an even larger drop of 56 percent between 1967 and 1976. It was only the expansion of surface mining to western states in the 1970s that delayed the appearance of a national decline in productivity until the early 1970s. The industry has thus foreshadowed the labor productivity declines that subsequently occurred in other industries.

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Energy Specializations: Coal – Mining Techniques and Production

JEL Codes:
D24 - Production; Cost; Capital; Capital, Total Factor, and Multifactor Productivity; Capacity

Keywords: Surface coal mining, US, Labor productivity, CES production function

DOI: 10.5547/ISSN0195-6574-EJ-Vol8-No1-6

Published in Volume 8, Number 1 of The Quarterly Journal of the IAEE's Energy Economics Education Foundation.