Record number of seasonal workers added

The retail industry expects stronger sales this holiday season, and that contributed to U.S. retailers adding a record number of seasonal workers between October and November, according to an analysis of not seasonally adjusted federal labor data by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

The hiring boom provides further evidence that economic confidence is improving, consumer debt is shrinking and shoppers are gearing up to give the economy a much-needed boost by spending more on holiday purchases.

“Consumer spending is an extremely important part of the national economy,” said Jeff Rexhausen, senior research associate with the Economics Center at the University of Cincinnati. “(Retailers) are hiring people who are otherwise without a job, so we are expanding the workforce and reducing unemployment, and consequently reducing the cost of unemployment.”

U.S. retailers added 465,500 employees between October and November, bringing total employment to 15.32 million workers, according to U.S. Department of Labor data that was not seasonally adjusted. It was the largest increase in retail payrolls ever recorded during that period, according to the analysis by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Almost 3 million more Americans have jobs today than did a year ago, and that means there are more people who can afford to buy gifts and holiday-related goods and services, said John Challenger, CEO of the outplacement firm.

“Consumer spending and confidence is the cornerstone of the U.S. economy,” Challenger said. “Most economists think that it is responsible for about two-thirds of economic activity.”

The increase in seasonal hiring also comes even amid worries over the “fiscal cliff” and the growth of e-commerce, he said. But consumers are carrying less debt, which means they have more discretionary income, and that translates into better retail sales, Challenger said. An earlier Thanksgiving also meant that the holiday shopping season kicked off earlier than normal.

Holiday retail sales this year are projected to increase by about 3.9 percent to $1.08 billion in the area, according to a November report by the Economics Center. In Ohio, retail spending is expected to increase by 4.2 percent to $14.7 billion.

Kohl’s, which has 1,146 stores in 49 states, announced it will hire more than 52,700 associates this holiday season, up more than 10 percent from 2011.

Macy’s said in October it planned to hire about 80,000 seasonal associates this year, up from 78,000 in 2011. The company employs about 175,000 associates year round.

Toys “R” Us said it planned to hire 45,000 seasonal employees, including 1,850 in Ohio, to work in its stores and distribution centers. Seasonal employment was up from 40,000 workers for the 2011 holiday season.

Toys “R” Us needs more seasonal employees to fulfill orders through its “omnichannel offerings,” which allow consumers to order and receive products in a variety of different ways, representatives said. Customers can order products online or at the stores, and either pick them up or have them shipped to their homes.

“These omnichannel teams will work to ensure customers receive their purchases quickly and efficiently for a seamless in-store and online shopping experience, whenever, wherever and however they choose to shop with Toys ‘R’ Us,” said Jennifer Albano, a spokeswoman.

For some retailers, the holiday season represents between 20 to 40 percent of annual sales, according to the National Retail Federation. In 2011, holiday sales accounted for about 20 percent of all retail industry sales.

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