Appalachia's coal field slowly is fading as thick seams are mined out, and cheap Marcellus Shale gas grabs fuel markets, and low-priced western coal undercut more-expensive Appalachian coal. West Virginia mining jobs fell from 125,000 after World War II to just above 20,000 today. Meanwhile, the Marcellus drilling boom is creating gas well and pipeline work.
Employment keeps changing in the Mountain State. Especially, the computerized "information age" is wiping out blue-collar armies of the old smokestack era. Today's occupations tend to involve high-rise office towers, fax machines, email, fiber optics -- and college-educated employees. Mind labor now prevails; muscle labor is being eradicated by ever-better machines.
Job prospects for people with no education beyond high school have become so precarious that marriage is dwindling for this group.
This shift to individualized, thinking jobs has eroded labor unions, which represent less than 10 percent of private sector workers now. The chief area of union growth is among government and hospital employees.
In his Labor Day proclamation last week, President Obama said America's vast ocean of jobholders constitute the middle class and fulfill the promise of the American Dream. But he warned: "Over the past decades, that promise began to erode. People were working harder for less, and good jobs became more difficult to find."
Regardless of all these troubles, the need to work and bring home a paycheck remains universal. Working is expected of adults, whatever form the economy takes. Therefore, Labor Day persists. As usual, we reprint some thoughts for this holiday:
"Men suffer terribly from the death of a loved one, the breakup of a marriage, or some other personal tragedy. But what brings them to the point of immobilization most often is the loss of their job." -- Myron Brenton, The American Male
"Most people like hard work. Particularly when they are paying for it." -- Franklin P. Jones
"To love what you do and feel that it matters -- how could anything be more fun?" -- former Washington Post owner Katharine Graham, in Ms. magazine, October 1974
"I don't pity any man who does hard work worth doing. I admire him. I pity the creature who does not work, at whichever end of the social scale he may regard himself as being." -- Theodore Roosevelt, speech, Chattanooga, Tenn., Sept. 8, 1902
"The sleep of a laboring man is sweet." -- Ecclesiastes 4:12
"To own your life is hardly good / unless you own your livelihood. / To own your livelihood's as bad / if, in exchange, your life is had." -- James Agee, Workers, 1946