Thursday, November 13, 2008

Applications surge for holiday retail jobs

I have already written a post on jobless claims surging to the highest level since September, 2001. Well, now I have found another interesting story on the U.S. job market--applications are surging for holiday retail jobs. From MSNBC News:

NEW YORK - The odds of landing a part-time job at department store operator Bealls Outlet Stores Inc. this holiday season are slimmer than getting into Harvard: It's one out of every 45.

Don't think the chances are any better at 7-Eleven. One California store received more than 100 applicants in a week and a half for jobs that pay $8.50 per hour — and the retailer doesn't even usually hire holiday workers.

From department stores and convenience chains to call centers, managers who only a year ago had to scramble to fill holiday jobs are seeing a surge in the number of seasoned applicants — many of them laid off in other sectors and desperate for a way to pay the bills.

The flood of jobseekers comes even as the retail industry drastically cuts back on holiday hiring because of the drop-off in consumer spending, and the applicants — who differ from the usual pool, teens or stay-at-home moms looking for extra spending money — reflect the nation's fast-deteriorating job market.

"I thought it was going to be pretty easy, but I am not the only one looking for a job. There are thousands of us going for the same thing," said Kimberly Caparo of Chesterfield, Mich., who has applied for part-time jobs at Toys "R" Us Inc., Home Depot Inc. and Lowe's Cos. Inc. in recent weeks since she and her husband were laid off by American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc.

The important aspect about these holiday retail jobs is that the pay is around $8 to $9 dollars an hour, and provide no benefits--certainly no health care benefits. The work is usually full-time, or part-time, and will only last from November to December. These jobs use to be filled by teens, and lower-income Americans, but with the unemployment rate rising, it appears that more middle-class Americans are taking these jobs in order to pay the bills as their own jobs are lost. And the American workers who are being hired into these temporary holiday job market will probably not be spending much money for the Christmas holidays, not if they are paying the bills on these low-paying retail jobs. According to the MSNBC News story:

What's so striking, store executives say, is how desperate the applicants are.

Rob Duncan, chief operating officer of Alpine Access, a "virtual" call center provider with 7,500 employees working from their homes across the country, estimated a 10 to 15 percent rise in applicants from a year ago. In the past, they were mostly stay-at-home moms looking for part-time work. Now the company, which handles customer service for stores like J. Crew as well as tech support, debt collection and financial services, is seeing more men and more midlevel managers looking for at least 35 hours of work.

"They are looking for replacement income; instead of supplemental income," Duncan said.

And yet, the retail industry is cutting back on their hiring in anticipation of a bad holiday season:

John Challenger, chief executive of Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, noted that holiday hiring will fall significantly below last year's total, which was the lowest since 2003. And those with pink slips shouldn't count on new job opportunities even after the holidays, since even more retailers are expected to file for bankruptcy.

The U.S. retail industry alone shed 38,100 jobs in October, bringing the total since January to 297,000, according to Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers. That accounts for 25 percent of the 1.2 million jobs lost in the U.S. so far this year. Yet retail employment only accounted for about 11 percent of total payroll employment — meaning the retail industry is losing a higher proportion of its jobs.

Such retail losses have helped push the nation's unemployment rate to a 14-year high of 6.5 percent in October as another 240,000 jobs overall were cut last month, according to government data released Friday. And many economists believe the unemployment rate will climb to 8 percent or 8.5 percent by the end of next year.

So, let us assume that U.S. companies are cutting back on spending and hiring in anticipation of the slowing U.S. economy. These companies are also laying off American workers, increasing the unemployment rate. Let us also assume that the jobs being lost are middle-income jobs. Those same Americans who have lost their middle-income jobs, are now applying for the low-income holiday retail jobs. The benefit for the holiday retailers is that they are getting high quality American workers for a low wage, and no need for paying health care benefits, for the Christmas season. The big negative for these retailers is that these high-quality American workers, that the retail companies are hiring, will be using their retail income as replacement income for the income from their middle-class jobs that these American workers have lost. These Americans will probably be cutting back on their Christmas spending, including whatever employee discounts they get from purchasing merchandise from the stores they work in. Retailers end up expecting a potentially bleak Christmas season with very poor sales, as Americans cut back on their shopping. The retailers may end up cutting even more jobs, making it harder for unemployed Americans to find work in even lower-paying sectors of the job market.

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