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Holidays to cheer: Retailers plan to increase hiring this season

Good back-to-school sales and rising consumer confidence are leading many retailers to add more seasonal jobs than they did last year – and many could become permanent.

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In this photo taken earlier this month, a clerk straightens out her display at a shoe store in Salem, N.H. US consumer confidence jumped this month to the highest level since February, bolstered by a brighter hiring outlook.

Elise Amendola/AP

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Despite all the negative political ads, retailers are getting increasingly optimistic for the holiday season.

Many of them are planning to hire more seasonal workers than they did last year. And not only are they planning to hire earlier, but some of the jobs may become permanent positions.

“The fact retailers are increasing their hiring compared to last year is a great sign of what is to come both in sales and the mind-set of retailers,” says Liz Moughan, director of the retail and hospitality practice group at Kronos Inc., a workforce-management software provider in Chelmsford, Mass. “The fact that so many are hiring more than last year shows that they are finally putting their money where their mouth is and investing in their labor.”

According to a survey by the Hay Group, a Philadelphia-based consulting company, 36 percent of the merchants they surveyed said they will be hiring more, up from only 10 percent who said they planned to increase hiring last year. The Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas is estimating retailers could hire about 700,000 workers this year, up from 660,00 last year.

Retailers are more positive about the holiday season because of solid back-to-school sales in August and some signs that consumer confidence is beginning to improve. On Tuesday, the Conference Board, a New York-based business research organization, said its index of consumer confidence jumped nine points for September, led by a surge of optimism about the future.

“Not even $2 billion in negative ads could depress the consumer who seems to believe that things are getting better,” says economist Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Analysis in Holland, Pa., in an analysis referring to political ads run by Republicans. “The job market is considered really tough, but workers seem to think there will be a growing number of openings going forward.”

Retailers are optimistic even though gasoline prices – now beginning to fall – have remained relatively high. The unemployment rate, too, is still above 8 percent, and the Federal Reserve, in its pronouncements about the economy, has been very cautious and has started another effort to stimulate growth.

Despite those concerns, some large retailers have announced they plan to increase the number of holiday workers.

One of those is Milwaukee-based Kohl’s, which has said it will hire 52,700 seasonal workers, up from 40,000 last year. In addition, reflecting the growth of online hiring, Kohl’s says it plans to hire an extra 5,700 workers at its distribution centers and will add another 30 for temporary credit operations jobs.

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