The one main source of decent paying work in southern West Virigina, coal mining, seems to be drying up for good, leaving many jobless in a region where mountainous terrain makes it difficult to diversify the economy.
McDowell County, home to Welch, had a population of just under 100,000 in 1950. Now it's around 20,000. As jobs disappear, young people are forced to leave the area to find employment.
. Superintendent Jackie Ratliff, a coal miner of 25 years, walks towards a pile of coal waiting to be shipped at a processing plant on Oct. 6 in Welch.
. Scott Tiller, a coal miner of 31 years, operates a continuous miner machine in a coal mine roughly 40-inches-high on Oct. 6 in Welch.
Now employment is falling further because the world is trying to turn away from coal in hopes of protecting the environment and human health. Coal is by far the biggest source of carbon dioxide and airborne pollutants among fuels used to make electricity.
. Ratliff holds coal running through a processing plant on Oct. 6 in Welch.
The program hires graduates of high school vocational programs to restore, repurpose or tear down old buildings, use old building materials to make furniture, or build new homes on reclaimed coalfield land.
Despite hard times, miners won’t disappear completely from coal country. The coal they mine is high-quality stuff, used for making steel. It may even be used to build the frames for solar panels
West Virginia is the only state in the country where more than half of adults are not working, according to the Census Bureau.
. A sign in a storefront window sums up the area's decline on Oct. 7 in Welch.