More holiday jobs this year suggests stronger spending, confidence

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In the wake of a mixed national employment picture, there have been a couple of hopeful signs about the economy.

For John Challenger, the CEO of the Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, the good news was hidden in last week's U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that retailers had hired a record number of temporary help for the holiday season.

According to the government report, which used numbers that are not seasonally adjusted, retailers hired 465,400 workers in November -- more than in previous years and 21 percent more than last November when they added 383,700 seasonal workers.

"To me, it suggests that consumer spending is stronger than it's been and that means consumer confidence is stronger," he said. "That is a positive sign that retailers are hiring more."

Mr. Challenger also looked at the survey that the government conducts of households across the nation and found there are nearly 2.5 million more people working in the country than were employed last November, which implies there are more people with discretionary income to spend this year.

Consumer spending creates a virtuous cycle as spending creates demand for more production, which means more workers, who then can spend more.

Another positive sign was found by Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., in Tuesday's data on job openings and labor turnover from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

When Ms. Shierholz calculated the number of jobs listed as available against the number of job seekers, she found there were 3.3 unemployed people for every job.

While that is down from a high in July 2009 of 6.7 people for every job, she said the nation still has a long way to go.

The number of job seekers to jobs is still 16 percent above the average level for 2007, before the recession began. At that point, there were fewer than two job seekers for every new job.

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Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.


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