Will Retailers' Holiday Hiring Take A Hit?

Expectations are guarded for part-time or short-term employment during the Christmas shopping season. Two large retail chains have opposing strategies: J.C. Penney expects to hire extra workers, while Target plans to give existing employees more hours. Rachel Ward of member station WXXI reports from Rochester, N.Y.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Which I've already heard about.

Those holiday shopping forecasts affect retailers' decisions about how many people to hire for the yearend shopping rush. Temporary holiday work is an important income booster for many Americans, though maybe not this year.

Reporter Rachel Ward from member station WXXI in Rochester, New York, has more.

RACHEL WARD: A deep recession can't steal Christmas entirely, so companies are working out ways to serve customers and save on seasonal hiring. At Target, the strategy is to offer current employees more hours and hire fewer seasonal workers according to Beth Hanson, a Target spokesperson.

Ms. BETH HANSON (Spokesperson, Target): In previous years, we've given team members extra opportunity to take on additional hours but we would look externally pretty much right away throughout the seasonal process. So this year, we're first working with the existing team members.

WARD: Competitor J. C. Penney is taking a different tact. It's not dropping its seasonal hiring one bit, according to spokesperson Kate Coultas(ph).

Ms. KATE COULTAS (Spokesperson, J. C. Penney): We're certainly not planning to have a decline. The holiday season is very, very important, and we want to make sure that when our customers are coming in that they're getting the services they deserve.

WARD: Coultas says individual stores will lose their employee base by five to 20 percent for the holidays. University of Rochester economist Mark Zupan says those opposing tactics reflect a retail industry that doesn't quite know what to expect in 2009.

Professor MARK ZUPAN (Economist; Economics, University of Rochester): Right now the signals seem to be basically flat relative to last year and worries that it'll be possibly even lower than last year in terms of hiring.

WARD: Not very Christmassy way to end this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. ZUPAN: Yeah. I know. That's why it's called the dismal sides I guess.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WARD: Analysts will know exactly how dismal things are when seasonal workers start showing up or not showing up in October, November and December employment data.

For NPR News, I'm Rachel Ward in Rochester, New York.

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