Holiday hiring seen as flat to slightly lower

NEW YORK — Holiday retail hiring is expected to be flat or even slightly lower compared with last year, according to Challenger, Gray and Christmas’ annual holiday hiring forecast.

The outplacement consulting firm said 627,000 seasonal retail jobs were created from October through December in 2010. The total was up 27% from 2009, and nearly double the 26-year low that occurred in 2008.

"It would be surprising if holiday hiring exceeded last year's level," stated John Challenger, chief executive, Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

Challenger said that holiday employment gains would most definitely not reach pre-recession levels, which averaged around 720,000 extra seasonal workers added from October through December.

 “Most indications so far point to about the same level of hiring as last year,” he said.

A recent survey of major U.S. retailers by the Hay Group found 68% plan to hire the same number of seasonal workers as last year. About one-fourth of respondents said they plan to reduce the number of seasonal hires.

The uncertain state of the economy is credited with retailers’ decision to pull back on hiring. But another factor that may suppress increased hiring is the fact that retailers are heading into the holiday season with about 160,000 more workers than a year ago, according to Challenger.