Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden said coal miners worried about losing their jobs should learn how to write computer code.

Now, why didn’t we think of that?

Biden told a rally in Derry, New Hampshire that “Anybody who can go down 3,000 feet in a mine can sure as hell learn to program as well… Anybody who can throw coal into a furnace can learn how to program, for God’s sake!”

Non sequitur aside, we’ll start by giving Biden the benefit of the doubt.  Economic history is the story of the destruction of jobs and industries and the creation of new ones. People can and do learn new skills and change careers.

But beyond the macro view, Biden’s cheeky comment belies the true problem.

First, plenty of job retraining programs already exist.  The United Mine Workers union operates career centers, community and technical colleges offer training for non-traditional students, and the U.S. Department of Labor recently allocated $5 million for worker training in Appalachia. The list goes on and on.

Second, retraining does not guarantee a job. John Benton, deputy secretary of Education and Workforce Development Cabinet in Kentucky, told Ohio Valley Resource, “The challenge we face is not necessarily are the training programs effective?  It is, are there other industries for those displaced workers to go to work?”

A retrained miner may have to relocate.  Can they find a buyer for their home in a potentially depressed area, pay off their existing mortgage and still afford to move to the new job?

Third, most of the retrained jobs don’t come close to paying what miners make going underground.  There is little impetus for miners to give up an $80,000 or more annual paycheck to go to a job that pays half that much.

Fourth, and this may be nitpicking Mr. Biden, but knowing computer coding is no panacea.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of computer programming jobs in this country will decline by seven percent over the next decade as more of those jobs move offshore.

And finally, Biden’s policies are contributing to the miners’ hardships.  Yes, the coal industry is in a natural decline, however, Obama-era environmental policies contributed significantly to coal’s downturn and Biden promises more of the same if elected.

Biden cites his blue-collar roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania as the reason why he understands working people, but his flippant “learn code” comment ignores the realities of the challenges coal miners face.

 

 

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