Each year the nation's retailers hang out the "Help Wanted" sign in anticipation of a pick up in sales driven by holiday purchases. Despite the languid recovery, this year is no exception.
In October, considered the first month for holiday hiring, retailers added 141,500 jobs -- nearly on par with the number gained last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The level of hiring in October, this year and last, represents substantial improvement compared to previous Octobers. In 2009, retailers added just 45,100 jobs, while in 2008 -- the worst holiday-hiring season in 22 years -- companies hired a mere 38,600 seasonal workers, notes employment-services firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.
Whether this year's strong seasonal hiring momentum carried into November won't be known until later this week, when the Department of Labor releases its monthly employment report on Friday. But there are hopeful signs in retail sales figures, based on preliminary surveys.
Retail sales recorded Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, were up 6.6 percent from last year and foot traffic in stores was up 5.1 percent, according to ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based research firm. The year-over-year increase in spending was the largest since 2007, the firm says.
Figures from the National Retail Federation showing a greater number of shoppers at stores and online are a "promising sign for the economic recovery," the organization's president, Matthew Shay, tells The Baltimore Sun. NRF data also showed that customers spent on average $33 more than last year, or nearly $400.
Challenger CEO John Challenger says the number of jobs added this month will provide the best snapshot of the robustness of seasonal hiring in 2011. "[November] is usually when we see the highest number of jobs added," he says.
Still, he cautions, with record numbers of Americans still out of work, those in the market for seasonal positions will likely encounter stiff competition
"Job seekers who apply for positions online or blindly blanket retail outlets with completed applications will lose out to those who take more aggressive steps," Challenger says. Those strategies include visiting stores during slower hours and meeting with store managers in person.
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