(USA TODAY) -- Shaky consumer confidence and cost-trimming by stores may stop 2013 holiday seasonal hiring from reaching last year's 12-year high, global employment consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported Monday.
Retailers are expected to hire roughly 700,000 temporary employees for the Oct.1- Dec. 31 holiday season, the Chicago-based company said. That would fall below the 751,800 hired last year. The 2012 total was up 14% from prior year and marked the fourth consecutive increase in holiday hiring since the national financial collapse.
"While the economy and job market are improving, it has now been four years since the recession officially ended and millions of Americans are still unemployed or underemployed," said company CEO John Challenger in a statement with the firm's annual forecast. "As a result, consumers remain uneasy, which is evidenced by wide monthly mood swings in confidence surveys."
Retailers typically start year-end holiday hiring in October. The shopping season traditionally starts on Black Friday - the day after Thanksgiving - and ends with Christmas. The season is usually crucial for retailers' annual sales figures. And the way the calendar falls this year, stores have just 25 days to capture holiday sales, down from 31 last year.
The Challenger forecast update cited a September report by Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan that found consumer sentiment had slipped to its lowest level since April. The drop came one month after a six-year high was reached. "Such mood swings are not instilling a lot of optimism among those charged with reading the retail sales tea leaves," said the Challenger report.
Additionally, the latest forecast from retail research firm ShopperTrak predicts that sales in U.S. stores will rise 2.4% in November and December. Those increases would fall below jumps of 3% in 2012, 4% in 2011 and 3.8% in 2010, the Challenger report said.
The report also noted that retail chain Target expects to hire 70,000 holiday workers for its stores this year, down from 88,000 in 2012. Target said the reduction was based on increased efficiencies and a desire to allow its permanent full-time employees reap the pay rewards of extra holiday hours.
Bucking the downbeat hiring forecast, retail giant Wal-Mart announced Monday that it would hire 55,000 seasonal associates, 5,000 more than in 2012. More than 35,000 associates will also transition from temporary to part-time jobs, while another 35,000 will go from part-time to full-time, Wal-Mart said.
And a survey of hiring managers with responsibility to hire year-end, seasonal workers for the holiday period by Snagajob, a company focused on part-time and full-time hourly jobs, found that 69% will make holiday hires this seasson. That's up 6 percentage points from 2012.
"It is never too early for holiday job seekers to begin their searches," said Challenger, who noted that most seasonal hiring decisions will be made in October. "However, do not give up if your first attempts at finding a job are unsuccessful. There is constant churn in the retail industry. It has some of the highest turnover rates of any industry."
Though the forecast for holiday job seekers was somewhat downbeat, there was somewhat good news for retailers. Consulting firm Deloitte on Monday forecast a 4% to 4.5% increase in holiday sales, on par with last year's gains. Daniel Bachman, Deloitte's senior economist, pegged the prediction to rising home prices and steady job creation that "may buoy consumers' confidence in the economy and create a wealth effect."