Holiday retail hiring could break record set 12 years ago

Holiday hiring by retailers is fast approaching a record set 12 years ago, according to a new analysis of government numbers.

So far, retailers have added 619,700 seasonal workers in October and November, 19 percent more than the 512,600 holiday employees hired in the same period last year, according to consultancy firm Challenger Gray &Christmas Inc.

If businesses bring on just 140,300 more workers in December, they’ll match the nearly 760,000 employees tacked on to payrolls during the three-month holiday hiring season in 2000 — a record high.

Doing so isn’t a stretch. Last year, retailers hired 147,600 workers in December, bringing the three-month total to 660,200 seasonal employees.

Last month, businesses such as Target and Amazon.com picked up 465,500 additional workers, a 21 percent increase from a year ago and slightly above the record set in November 2007. Challenger derives its non-seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Despite all of the uncertainty, all the talk of fiscal cliffs, the widespread damage to retail epicenters on the east coast by Hurricane Sandy, and the continued growth of e-commerce, retailers are hiring holiday workers in record numbers,” said Chief Executive John A. Challenger in a statement.

The influx of workers is being used to staff stores as they expand holiday hours. Chains such as Wal-Mart caused a kerfuffle by opening even before Black Friday, allowing shoppers in on Thanksgiving. Macy’s stores will stay open for 48 hours straight starting Dec. 21, with 57 stores keeping the lights on for another 24 hours after that.

But whether the hordes of retail associates will be met with crowds of shoppers is unclear. Consumer confidence is at a four-month low. Though Black Friday saw healthy shopping levels, retail sales overall rose a weak 1.6 percent in November.

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