COVID-19 Pandemic Muddies Seasonal Hiring Plans at US Firms

Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported Tuesday that U.S. companies have so far announced 301,700 seasonal jobs for the 2020 holiday shopping season. The total to date is about 62% below the 789,781 seasonal jobs added for the 2019 holiday season.

Predicting the number of jobs that will be available this year is complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Challenger, Gray Vice President Andrew Challenger noted that the pandemic has altered typical seasonal hiring patterns. In 2019, low unemployment and strong consumer spending generated “one of the strongest holiday seasons in recent history.”

This year, the picture is more uncertain. One of last year’s major seasonal employers, J.C. Penney, hired 37,000 seasonal workers but has announced plans so far to hire just 1,700 this year. The retailer filed for bankruptcy protection in mid-May, with nearly 850 stores and 85,000 employees. Two U.S. mall owners last week worked out a deal to keep more than 600 stores open and about 70,000 employees. J.C. Penney plans to liquidate 242 store locations.

The other side of the pandemic coin may be Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN). The e-commerce giant has announced that it plans to hire 100,000 seasonal workers this year, down from 200,000 last year, but Amazon has been adding thousands of jobs as the pandemic has raised demand from shoppers who have been avoiding going to brick-and-mortar stores.

United Parcel Service Inc. (NYSE: UPS) and FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX) have announced seasonal hiring plans for 100,000 and 70,000 new employees, respectively. UPS’s 2020 total is 5,000 more than last year, and FedEx’s total is 15,000 higher.

Online florist Inc. (NASDAQ: FLWS) plans to hire 10,000 seasonal employees, up from 8,000 last year, and craft store Michaels Companies Inc. (NASDAQ: MIK) has announced plans to hire 16,000 seasonal workers, up from 15,000 a year ago.

Andrew Challenger noted that while retailers are “desperate” to draw customers into their stores, most retailers are focused on offering a “safe shopping experience.” That means that retail stores “will likely need to create positions and tasks that are unprecedented, such as temperature takers, mask enforcers, and curb-side workers.”

In 2019, retailers hired 702,000 seasonal employees, more than 12% more than the 625,600 brought on for the 2018 holiday shopping season. Many are still trying to figure out how many new hires they’ll need this year.

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