Trump's Win Brings Hope to W.Va. Coal Country

Jan 12, 2017

Appalachia voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. He won 95% of the counties here. On this week’s Inside Appalachia, we speak with Trump supporters and opponents about how a Trump presidency will impact our region.

The latest Inside Appalachia episode, Appalachians share their hopes and fears surrounding Trump. We also dig into the facts and talk with experts about what a Trump Presidency could actually mean for Appalachia. Don't forget to subscribe to the Inside Appalachia podcast so you never miss an episode.

One of the stories featured in this week's episode of Inside Appalachia is about Jonathon Griffith and his family. He's a coal miner from Wyoming County, West Virginia.

For many coal miners and their families, Trump's election means hope, pure and simple. Coal miner Jonathan Griffith describes what it was like inside the mine on Election Day.

“Everybody was excited to go because they knew something better was going to happen,” Griffith said.

President elect Donald Trump made big promises to coal country during his campaign trail, like when he told folks at a rally in West Virginia that he was going to “put the miners back to work.”

This promise is main reason why Griffith voted from Trump. He, his wife Jessica, and their five boys live in Wyoming County, West Virginia.

“If you ain’t coal mining or railroad then you’re either on welfare or you got a college education," Griffith said. “I’m hoping that he can bring in something that would help everybody, and I believe he will.”

Griffith didn’t always vote for Republicans. In 2008, he says he voted for Obama. And he’s a union miner - and unions tend to support Democrats.

Griffith kids waiting for their parents to come home
Credit WVPB/ Jessica Lilly

“I believe that even the unions are ready for a change,” he said.

It’s early, but Griffith says he’s seeing a change for the better in his community. Coal stocks are up. The price of coal has increased some, too. He says inexperienced miners, including his brother-in-law, are finding work.

“Red hats are finally going to be able to get hired and I haven’t seen that since I was a red hat five years ago,” he said.

Griffith just recently got his job back after he was laid off for about 7 months. While he was called back to work, plenty of his friends and family were not. Getting rid of that worry would make him happier, and healthier.

“I wouldn’t have to sit here and worry about if I’m going to have a job today or tomorrow and see if my five kids are going to eat or not,” he said. “That would keep me from stressing out.  And when you get stressed out about whether or not you have a job or not something bad could happen and I might not come home.”

He’s worked for about five years underground as a roof bolter. It’s considered one of the most dangerous jobs. It’s also one of the best paying.

“Life of a coal miner is pretty rough,” he said. “There’s nights you come home and you’re tired you really don’t want to do nothing except sleep and go back to work. But then there’s nights you have to make yourself spend time with the family.”

“It’s like you’re a single parent a lot of times because he’s just not there,” his wife Jessica said. “They work 6 days a week, sometimes 12 hours a day.”

Griffith's dad didn’t want him to become a coal miner. He doesn’t want any of his five boys to become miners. Both Jonathan and Jessica hope this coal mining money to get their boys get a college education. They hope their kids can escape mining.

“I’m trying to talk myself into hoping that my kids don’t get into it because it is a dangerous job,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine my kids doing it.”

Jonathan says if he gets laid off again, he’ll go back to school and try to get away from the mining industry.

“It’s not that I don’t like it I love being a coal miner. I love my job.  It’s just it’s tiring,” he said. “Sometimes you come home and sleep all day long.”

So why not quit the mines now? Why not move? It’s a question common on social media and in stories about coal country.

The Griffith’s did think about moving. They weighed their options and looked at moving to Alabama when he was laid off.

“It’s hard to pick up and leave,” Jessica Griffith said. “It’s not just, ‘oh we can pick up and move’. There’s a lot to it.”

So, the Griffith’s, like so many other coal country families, fight to keep what they have.

“A lot of people talk about the coal mines like it eventually is going to be gone,” Jessica Griffith said. “One day it probably will be, but you know you’ve got to work what you’ve got while you’ve got it.”

That’s why the Griffiths say they voted for Donald Trump. And despite their misgivings about the man, they’re hopeful that maybe, under his presidency, their lives will get better.