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Holidays will bring more hiring

Several big retailers will increase their ranks of seasonal workers, as consumer spending picks up

Macy’s is the latest big retailer to announce a jump in hiring for the upcoming holiday season. Expecting stronger sales this year, the department store chain plans to hire around 80,000 workers to staff its stores and call centers. That’s up about 2.5 percent from last year. Kohl’s, Toys R Us and Wal-Mart are also looking for more temporary sales clerks and cashiers.

Some of those people could end up with permanent jobs. Macy’s spokesman Jim Sluzewski said seasonal work can be a tryout. “Very often when full-time or year-round positions become available, they’re the first ones we turn to,” he said.

That’s what happened at Target last year. The retailer said 30 percent of its seasonal staff stuck around after the holidays. At Toys R Us, 15 percent landed long-term jobs. But those were the lucky ones. “Numbers from the Labor Department suggest that most of the jobs disappear after the season is over," said John Challenger, with job placement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

With the economy still growing slowly, Challenger said demand isn’t strong enough for a big jump in hiring. He expects retailers to add around 700,000 seasonal jobs this year – only about 40,000 more than last year. Target, for instance, is adding fewer temporary workers than it did last year. Wal-Mart plans to increase its seasonal hiring slightly and give more hours to existing employees.

Challenger said the tough economy is also changing who’s applying for holiday work. "It’s no longer just a college student coming home," he said. "They’re people who need a second job. We’re seeing older people who come back into the workforce."

Melissa Hunter-Kilmer, 56, worked as a cashier at Target last holiday season, after losing her teaching job in 2009. "I really didn’t have any money coming in, and I thought, 'What the heck?'" she said. "It’s better than nothing.'" The job paid less than $8 an hour, "and it was exhausting," she said. Hunter-Kilmer now runs a business managing freelance writers and editors in Broadway, Virginia.

Macy’s won’t comment on how much its seasonal workers can expect to earn. Analyst John Challenger said seasonal retail work tends to pay near minimum wage, and no benefits.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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