Prove your humanity

Every year, the King Coal parade winds through the center of Carmichaels. Hundreds of people line up to see the fire engines, classic cars, floats and marching bands.

It’s fair to say the presidential race has people pretty fired up—and worried—in this small town in Greene County, about an hour’s drive south of Pittsburgh. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has promised to bring back coal—with few details on how he will accomplish it. Meanwhile, Democrat Hillary Clinton has said she’d put miners out of work, but is pushing a big plan to reinvest in coal communities.

Despite the black and yellow banners hanging around Carmichaels proclaiming, “King Coal,” times are changing for mining communities.

17-year-old Morgan Voithofer, Carmichaels' 2016 Coal Queen.

17-year-old Morgan Voithofer, Carmichaels’ 2016 Coal Queen. Photo: Marie Cusick / State Impact Pennsylvania

Just ask 17-year-old Morgan Voithofer, who was crowned Coal Queen this year. She’s considering moving away for a while to pursue an acting career.

“People have been losing their jobs and many of the mines have been shutting down,” says Voithofer.

Over the past four years, Pennsylvania has lost roughly 3,000 coal jobs as the industry faces tougher environmental regulations and competition from cheaper natural gas and renewable energy. The downturn has hurt people like Raymond Beckett, a mine electrician who lost his job last March.

“It’s been a tough year,” he says. “I’m 52 years old. Where am I going to find a job? Nobody even wants to look at me.”

His unemployment will run out soon, and he doesn’t know what’s next.

“This is all this area’s known,” he says. “Coal and steel.”

A lifelong Democrat, Beckett switched his registration to Republican before the primary to vote for Donald Trump, who he calls “the lesser of two evils.”

“I don’t think he’ll be worse than anyone else who’s been in there,” he says.

Continue reading this story at StateImpact Pennsylvania »