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Seasonal Hiring Outlook: Recession fears may limit need

holiday worker
Retailers will add 680,000 workers during the 2022 holiday season, according to a forecast by Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Although labor shortages are still an issue in retail, recession fears and other factors may cause retailers to take a cautious stance toward holiday hiring.

As the season kicks off, employers are grappling with possibly falling consumer demand for the holidays as planned rate increases, inflation  and potential recession fears take hold, according to global outplacement and business and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The firm’s 2022 Seasonal Retail Hiring Outlook forecasted that retailers will add 680,000 workers during the 2022 holiday season, down from the 700,000 the company predicted last year. (The 2021 holiday hiring season saw retailers add 701,400 jobs, revised up from 684,100, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and down 5% from the 736,300 jobs added during the 2020 holiday season.

“A lot of uncertainty is plaguing seasonal employers, which may mean a slower hiring season,” said Andrew Challenger, senior VP of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Indeed, Walmart recently announced hiring plans for 40,000 seasonal workers, down significantly from the 150,000 the company announced last year. The Michaels Cos. plans to hire 15,000 seasonal workers, down from 20,000 last season.

Amazon, which since 2012 has announced an average of more than 106,500 seasonal jobs each year — with 125,000 last year, according to Challenger tracking — has yet to announce a seasonal hiring plan.

“Companies have been in hiring mode for two years, battling to attract and retain talent, and offering unprecedented perks and salaries to do so,” said Challenger. “Some may find they have all the workers they need, considering a downturn and consumer activity, leading to fewer jobs added overall,”

Seasonal hiring at Target, however, is on par with last year, with plans to hire up to 100,000 workers.

Overall Retail Employment 
Retail employment has surpassed pre-pandemic levels, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas.   August employment in the sector is 15,772,900, according to preliminary non-seasonally adjusted data from the BLS, the highest for the month since 2017 when the sector employed 15,810,200 in August. It is up 419,000 jobs from February 2020 and up 136,500 jobs from January 2022.

Transportation and warehousing, which has seen employment explode since 2014 as consumers increasingly went online to shop, added 552,300 jobs last holiday season, revised up from 493,100, the highest on record. It is up 12% from the 493,800 added during the holidays in 2021.

Preliminary employment in this sector is 6,407,400, the highest in August since at least 1972, the earliest the BLS provides data for the industry. It is the third-highest month ever, according to BLS data, following last December (6,689,000) and November (6,498,000).

To date, U.S.-based companies have announced 258,201 seasonal hiring plans, up 36% from the 190,000 seasonal hiring plans announced by this point last year, according to Challenger tracking. This is down from 301,700 hiring plans companies announced at this point in 2020.

So far this season, UPS announced it would add 100,000 jobs for the holiday season, matching last year’s announcement.

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