As autumn begins this week, many retailers are launching their searches for temporary workers to help with the holiday shopping season.
Stores are expected to add up to 600,000 employees in October, November and December, according to a new report by Challenger, Gray and Christmas Inc., a Chicago firm that tracks employment trends.
Last year, stores added about a half-million seasonal workers. That was up by nearly a third from the disastrous autumn of 2008, but still weak compared with pre-recession days. In 2006, retailers employed about 750,000 holiday workers.
"It seems we're in a better place now than we were a year ago at this time," CEO John Challenger said. "But retailers are still very cautious. The recession is not too far behind them."
Store managers do see some reason for optimism: U.S. retail sales rose 0.3 percent in July and 0.4 percent in August. That suggests some momentum heading into the fall. Recent data show an uptick in shopping for clothes, and retailers have high hopes for sales of hand-held gadgets, such as smart phones and electronic readers.
Last week, Toys "R" Us underscored its optimism for the upcoming shopping season by announcing plans for about 600 temporary stores around the country. The company said it would begin hiring about 10,000 workers for the holidays.
Reasons To Worry
Still, there are plenty of reasons for worry. Nearly 15 million people are still out of work, and household net worth shrunk about $100 billion in the first half of 2010, according to a new analysis by IHS Global Insight, a forecasting firm.
"With employment recovering very gradually and housing prices remaining low, household wealth will make a very slow recovery," IHS economist Gregory Daco said in a written analysis. That will leave "consumers with few, if any, reasons to dramatically increase their spending," he said.