2012 Holiday hiring highest in six years

Danbury Fair Mall Shoppers By Carol Kaliff

This explains why the State’s unemployment assistance phone system has been overwhelmed during the last week.

According to hiring consultant firm Challenger Gray and Christmas, retailers added728,300 staff nationally, between October and New Year’s Day, the biggest total since 2006, when retailers added 746,900.

Connecticut retailers appear to have participated in the increase in hiring as the Labor Department last week announced its unemployment benefits phone system had become overwhelmed with calls from people who had been laid off from temporary holiday jobs. Connecticut’s December employment report is due out Jan. 17.

Challenger had noted heading into the holiday shopping season that national sales could get a boost from adding staff, but most assessments have called this holiday season disappointing at stores, but a big hit for e-commerce.

“The fact that holiday hiring in the retail sector reached pre-recession levels is remarkable for a few reasons.  More people are working, but many are still under-employed and, as a result, wages have remained stubbornly low.  So, spending power this year was not necessarily greater than a year ago.  Additionally, more people are shopping online, where increased holiday demand is more easily met without adding a lot of seasonal workers.   Yet, despite these factors, brick-and-mortar retailers moved forward with increased hiring,” John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in a press release.

“An early Thanksgiving, which meant earlier Black Friday sales, may have contributed to an earlier hiring surge.  Additionally, a growing number of retailers opened their doors on Thanksgiving Thursday, which may have also boosted the need for extra hiring in order to ensure that enough workers were available to staff these holiday hours,” he noted.

Retail sales, excluding drug stores, increased 4.8 percent in December, according to Retail Metrics.  The International Council of Shopping Centers estimates that its members will show an increase about 4.0 percent total for December.  Meanwhile, e-commerce was up 14 percent for the entire holiday season, according to comScore.

Rob Varnon