After spending a night in Lamoille in northeastern Nevada, I stopped for coffee in nearby Spring Creek at the Mudd Hutt, "a basque coffee house with two shops located in Spring Creek and Elko, also serving breakfast and other foods." I had a nice conversation with the friendly co-owner. She told me about the longstanding Basque presence in northern Nevada (rooted in mining and sheep herding) and was curious about my trip. When she heard that I was talking with high schoolers about the economy she said, "Oh, I wish you could come to Spring Valley; they need to hear that!".
She is a mother of two teenagers and spoke passionately about the challenges for young people in the area, particularly boys,due to mining. Mining was a foundation of the European-American development of Nevada (University of Nevada History of Mining site) and continues to be a top non-tourism industry in the state and mining products its biggest exports. In addition to minerals traditionally mined in Nevada (gold, silver and copper), the state also produces large amounts of other minerals used in technology: lithium, iron, and molybdenum (used in alloys and lubricants). According to the Nevada Mining Association, 10,800 people work at 119 mines across the state and "the industry’s average salary in Nevada is $93,444, nearly double the state average". Additionally, each mining job is said to generate four jobs in other sectors. Gold mining continues to be the most valuable part of this economy(75% of total U.S. gold production) with prices reflecting investors' judgments of alternatives and economic stability (i.e. "Gold edges back above $1,200 as dollar rally stalls"). Technological advances have allowed "mature" mines to continue to be productive.
The Nevadan gold mining industry is centered around Elko where the Newmont Mining Corporation's Carlin Trend is "the most abundant goldfield in the Western Hemisphere". While the tourism-focused economy of southern Nevada is still recovering from the devastating effects of the 2008 recession, northern Nevada mining is operating at close to full-employment. This is what concerns the proprietor of the Mudd Hutt: that boys like her sons can graduate from high school and - as in Williston ND - be immediately hired by one of the mining companies (Newmont and Barrick Gold are the two biggest). On the day I checked their job site Newmont was advertising Truck Driver Trainee positions that had no requirements for experience. The posting doesn't list salaries but Indeed reports truck drivers salaries at Newmont (at the bottom of the company pay scale) are $67,583.
According to the Mudd Hutt proprietor, recent high school graduates like her sons can earn close to $100,000. She worries about this for several reasons. First, suddenly having that kind of income tends to lead the new hires to buy lots of "toys": trucks, ATVs, boats, etc. They spend so much, she said, that they often end up going into debt and having to work overtime to pay their bills. And then, she said, they suffer stress and worry and - she reported - "there is a big suicide problem". A May 2018 article in The Elko Free Press documented the problem. "Dying in Elko County" reported that, "The suicide rate in Elko County in 2017 was more than double Nevada’s rate, and more than three times higher than the national average". The article quotes Lynette Vega, the chairwoman of a recently formed group, Zero Suicides Elko County: "Risk factors such as self-medicating, lack of sleep, and poor diets also contribute to mental health problems...I would say that some of it has to do with the schedules at the mines that people have...and the family structure isn’t always strong here in Elko because of that.”
This was the core of her concern for the young people in the area: that they were vulnerable to the mental health (as well as physical) dangers of mining work. And, moreover, in her opinion, the area offered very few economic, cultural and social opportunities for personal growth. She talked about how she had made it clear to her sons that she did not want them to stay in Elko and she was glad that they seemed to have rejected mining as a career and to be focused on moving out of the area.