More people compete for holiday-season jobs

by Nathan Hall

Students hunting for seasonal jobs might have been encouraged by October employment statistics showing increased jobs in nearly every sector.

But looks can be deceiving.

Several local economists and retail analysts said while there will be more seasonal retail jobs nationwide than in recent years, students could have more competition for those positions.

Although students typically receive the lion’s share of seasonal jobs, they might now be competing with the thousands of manufacturing and technology workers laid off over the past few years.

“There may be a lot more competition for these types of jobs because there are more people looking for jobs in general,” said Brian McCall, a Carlson School of Management industrial relations professor. “It’s not just students on break anymore.”

The U.S. Labor Department reported earlier this month that retail employers added 30,000 jobs last month, the largest increase for the industry since February 2001.

The Washington-based National Retail Federation reported that nationwide, retailers hired 3.2 percent more personnel, the same as last year.

But Minnesota Department of Economic Security data shows retail employment in Minnesota is down 1.3 percent from last year.

Despite this, David Brennan, a University of St. Thomas marketing professor and co-director of the Institute for Retailing Excellence, said he does not think students should worry about their prospects for earning extra spending money over break.

“Manufacturing jobs, for example, are typically higher-paying, so those laid off more recently are more inclined to collect unemployment than settle for a $7 (per hour) job,” Brennan said.

“It may appeal of course to those who have been laid off for a really long time, but the job skills and interests remain totally different,” Brennan said. “It’s a completely different mindset so I don’t think you can just simply plug them into the retail service industry.”

John Fossum, an industrial relations professor at the Carlson School, said the number of seasonal retail jobs is affected by the previous summer’s consumer confidence numbers.

Consumer confidence surveys measure Americans’ spending sentiments and expectations. When people feel secure in their jobs, they typically spend more money, meaning better bottom lines for retailers. This can lead to more jobs.

“Most retailers make their estimates and place their (holiday) orders during the summer,” Fossum said. “Any major negative shock, like a major loss of life in Iraq, for example, could still definitely dampen the retail season.”

Most economics professors interviewed said the University of Michigan’s Survey of Consumers is the best indicator of consumer confidence.

Paula Thornton-Greear, a spokeswoman for Minneapolis-based Target Stores, said in a prepared e-mail statement that Target will hire the same number of seasonal employees as last year.

She estimated Target will hire between 50,000 and 80,000 new temporary employees nationwide. This translates to between 50 and 80 temporary workers per franchise.

Thornton-Greear said a high percentage of seasonal workers return for several years because they enjoy the atmosphere and flexible hours.

Richfield, Minn.-based Best Buy will increase holiday season staffing 32 percent, up 2 percent from 2002.

“These jobs are fairly popular with young people and the college-age crowd, but it really runs the gamut,” Best Buy spokeswoman Dawn Bryant said. She added that seasonal jobs with her firm are a possible “great stepping stone for more permanent employment.”

Other smaller, independent chains, such as St. Paul-based Bibelot, said they have no plans to increase their usual holiday sales forces.