David Bartlett stopped frequently to chat with friends as he made inquiries with employers at a recent Idaho Department of Labor job fair in Orofino. The nonchalance of the former Tri-Pro Forest Products employee and father of five children disguised very real stress. “My last paycheck is coming up,” said Bartlett, of Kooskia. “After that, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I hope I find something.”

Without something, Bartlett’s family will be forced to make ends meet with the part-time paycheck his wife earns at Kamiah’s senior center. Bartlett isn’t alone. Close to 60 people lost their jobs when Tri-Pro shuttered its mill near Orofino in October as it struggled to find enough logs to feed the mill.

An unknown number of them have already landed other positions. Some of those who haven’t are exploring their options. They join others looking for a career to replace whatever haphazard income they have been cobbling together in a county battered by a declining timber industry. The two groups are large enough that the midweek job fair drew a crowd at a time when the economy is strong enough that many employers are struggling to find quality applicants.

Success for Bartlett could mean a lengthy commute. Clearwater County has the highest unemployment rate in Idaho, even though neighboring Nez Perce County has one of the stronger manufacturing bases in the nation. Overall, north central Idaho’s unemployment rate was 3.8 percent in September. Increasingly, however, the jobs are concentrated in Lewiston at large employers such as Vista Outdoor, Clearwater Paper and Howell Munitions and Technology.

Clearwater County’s unemployment rate was 7.4 percent in September, the most recent month for which numbers are available. That figure doesn’t fully describe how tough Clearwater County’s job market is. It doesn’t account for the jobs lost at Tri-Pro, which continued a trend that started in 2000 when Potlatch closed its Pierce plywood mill.

From The Washington Times: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/nov/12/crumbling-timber-industry-puts-rural-idahoans-at-c/