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Holiday Hiring Wrap-Up
by Nick Beleiciks
Published Oct-21-2013

Retailers and package delivery companies rely on the holiday season to provide an end-of-year boost in sales that makes operating during the rest of the year worthwhile. Some businesses hire extra workers, often on a temporary basis, to get them through this busy time of year. The number of jobs added and people hired by "holiday hiring" industries with strong holiday employment patterns fell during the recession, rebounded in 2010, and finally returned to prerecession levels in 2012. The season's holiday buildup was led by stronger than usual growth in couriers and messengers (UPS, FedEx, etc.), health and personal care stores, and nonstore retailers.

Increased holiday buildup and hiring mean happier holidays since the recession, but the overall number of jobs in holiday hiring industries is still below prerecession levels. It's too early to say how well staffed the stores will be on opening day of this year's holiday shopping season ("Black Friday" - November 29, 2013), but industry trends suggest that retailers could add more than the typical number of workers this season.

The Holiday Buildup
Oregon's job buildup in industries with strong holiday employment patterns was 12,166 in 2012, better than the decade's average buildup of nearly 11,600. The "holiday buildup" is one way to measure holiday hiring activity. The holiday buildup table (Table 1) shows the net job gain in industries where employment grows during the holiday season and is cut soon after the New Year. Holiday buildups of the last decade ranged from a high of 14,980 in 2005 to a financial crisis-induced low of less than half that in 2008. The October through December jobs buildup in the holiday hiring industries that year fell to 7,071, just 6 percent more than September's level, far below the historical average buildup of 10 percent.

The holiday hiring retail industries included in Table 1 are based on the March 2009 Bureau of Labor Statistics article Holiday Season Hiring in Retail Trade. Jobs at postal services (both private and federal) and couriers and messengers have been added to give a more complete picture of industries with strong holiday employment patterns.

A few industries had larger than average buildups in 2012. The 2012 and 2001-2012 average buildups for each industry are shown in Table 2. The largest buildup occurs at general and merchandise stores, which added 3,932 jobs in the closing months of 2012, slightly more than in a typical year. Couriers and messengers and clothing and accessory stores had a larger buildup in 2012 than their average buildup.

Electronics and appliance stores, and sporting goods, hobby, and book stores have reduced their recent holiday buildups partly because of some large closures. The electronics superstore chain Circuit City closed its locations in 2009, and the industry's holiday buildup has remained below average. The bookstore chain Borders closed all its stores in 2011 just as the holiday buildup was getting underway. The Borders job losses helped make the 416-job seasonal buildup in sporting goods, hobby, and book stores that year the smallest on record, but the buildup improved to 712 jobs in 2012.

Postal services and couriers and messengers deliver many of the packages purchased during the holiday season, and their holiday workers account for about 13 percent of the total holiday jobs buildup. Private couriers and messengers delivered 33 percent more jobs in 2012's holiday season than in a typical year, the largest buildup rate of these seasonal industries. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) used to add over 500 jobs in Oregon each holiday season, but that number has fallen drastically (along with overall USPS employment) to just 113 jobs in 2012. The number of workers at private postal services (subcontractors of the USPS) has nearly doubled in Oregon since 2005, but with an annual average of just 160 jobs last year, their holiday buildup is not offsetting the decline in USPS seasonal jobs.

Holiday buildups inevitably lead to corresponding post-holiday declines in the number of workers needed as businesses adjust back to the usual sales pace. By January, the number of jobs in the holiday hiring industries is usually back to the same level as the prior September, reinforcing the fact that most holiday hiring is temporary.

Table 1
Oregon, 2001-2012
  September Monthly Increases Total Holiday Percent
Year Level October November December Buildup Buildup
2001 115,042 1,811 6,705 2,718 11,234 10%
2002 112,356 2,231 5,594 4,262 12,087 11%
2003 110,648 3,462 5,974 3,109 12,545 11%
2004 113,751 3,227 6,372 3,904 13,503 12%
2005 118,097 3,316 7,074 4,590 14,980 13%
2006 120,481 1,284 7,052 5,012 13,348 11%
2007 123,901 845 7,011 3,678 11,534 9%
2008 121,215 933 3,716 2,422 7,071 6%
2009 113,183 849 4,581 3,176 8,606 8%
2010 113,570 2,203 5,519 3,700 11,422 10%
2011 114,386 1,591 6,112 2,797 10,500 9%
2012 115,200 2,020 7,105 3,041 12,166 11%
Average 115,986 1,981 6,068 3,534 11,583 10%
* See Table 2 for a list of the selected industries
Table 2
Nearly One-Third of Bulidup in Nonstore Retailers and Delivery
September to December Employment Increase
Industry 2012 Buildup 2001-2012 Average Buildup
Furniture and home furnishing stores 425 386
Electronics and appliance stores 382 497
Health and personal care stores 420 329
Clothing and accessory stores 2,183 2,142
Sporting goods, hobby, and book stores 712 874
General merchandise stores 3,932 3,690
Miscellaneous store retailers 367 359
Nonstore retailers 2,109 1,889
Postal services (private and federal) 133 302
Couriers and messengers 1,503 1,130
Total Holiday Hiring in Selected Industries 12,166 11,597
The Holiday Hires
Holiday hires in this article are workers who started a new job in the holiday hiring industries during October, November, or December with an employer they did not work for in July, August, or September. They may or may not have continued to work for that employer following the holiday season.

The holiday buildup does not give a complete picture of holiday hiring because it only measures the net change in employment levels. Turnover rates among workers in holiday hiring industries are high, so there are more people who find a new job within those industries during the holiday season than are counted in the buildup.

There were 31,015 people hired in Oregon's holiday hiring industries during the fourth quarter of 2012, well below the average of nearly 35,200 each season since 2001, but an increase over the prior year (Graph 1). The number of holiday hires hovered just above 40,000 in the years leading up to the recession, but fell to 31,319 in 2008 and just 27,950 in 2009, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Local Employment Dynamics program.

Fourth quarter hiring accounted for about 39 percent of total hiring by holiday retailers during 2012 and about 51 percent of total hiring by private postal services and couriers and messengers (the number of holiday hires by USPS is not available). The share of annual hires getting their job during the holiday season has remained stable over the last decade. Workers hired by these industries may or may not stick around in their new job during the New Year, but there is a good chance many workers in the holiday hiring industries got their start during the holiday season.

Graph 1
2013's Wish List
We won't know how this season's holiday hiring compares with prior years until it too has come to pass. High unemployment and changing shopping habits muddy the hiring picture, but we can look at employment forecasts and announcements from employers to get a hint about what the future will bring.

The September 2013 employment forecast from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis expects Oregon's retail trade employment to grow in the fourth quarter of 2013 by 800 jobs more than the typical seasonal increase. The forecast is for the entire retail trade sector, not just the industries with a lot of holiday hiring, but the implication is that the holiday buildup will be above average this year.

Holiday hiring news around Oregon has been slow but is encouraging. According to a Mail Tribune article, Harry & David announced plans to hire 6,000 to 8,000 seasonal workers in its Rogue Valley, Eugene, and Ohio facilities, a seasonal tradition for the nonstore retailer. The department store Kohl's announced it plans to hire 40 seasonal workers per store, which could mean more than 400 temporary jobs across Oregon.

National announcements about holiday hiring have been mixed. Walmart has said it will hire 55,000 seasonal employees and transfer some current temporary workers to part-time and some part-time workers to full-time. Toys"R"Us announced plans to hire 45,000 employees for 2013, "on par with hiring plans" for the year before. The company also noted that 15 percent of its seasonal workforce retained permanent positions with the company following the holiday season. Target said it will hire 70,000 seasonal workers, which was fewer than the prior year, but it will offer additional hours to its current employees wanting to help out during the busy season. A Target official noted that one-third of its temporary holiday hires become permanent workers.

It's difficult to know what future seasonal hiring patterns of retailers will be as consumers make more of their purchases online. Parcel deliverers will no doubt continue hiring holiday workers to deliver those extra packages to all the good girls and boys, but local stores may not need to hire as many holiday workers as in past years if their customers are doing less shopping in person.