November 14, 2008
Jump in holiday applicants
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — The odds of landing a part-time job at department-store operator Bealls Outlet Stores this holiday season are slimmer than getting into Harvard: It's one out of every 45.
Don't think the chances are any better at 7-Eleven. One California store received more than 100 applicants in a week and a half for jobs that pay $8.50 per hour — and the retailer doesn't even usually hire holiday workers.
From department stores and convenience chains to call centers, managers who only a year ago had to scramble to fill holiday jobs are seeing a surge in the number of seasoned applicants — many of them laid off in other sectors and desperate for a way to pay the bills.
The flood of job seekers comes even as the retail industry drastically cuts back on holiday hiring because of the drop-off in consumer spending, and the applicants — who differ from the usual pool, teens or stay-at-home moms looking for extra spending money — reflect the nation's fast-deteriorating job market.
"I thought it was going to be pretty easy, but I am not the only one looking for a job. There are thousands of us going for the same thing," said Kimberly Caparo, of Chesterfield, Mich., who has applied for part-time jobs at Toys "R" Us, Home Depot and Lowe's in recent weeks since she and her husband were laid off by American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings.
At UPS, which is just starting to ramp up its holiday hiring, as much as 30 percent of the seasonal hires in the Northeast are coming from the ranks of the recently laid off, said spokeswoman Ronna Charles Branch. In the past, she said, applicants for holiday jobs at the world's biggest shipping carrier were largely students.
Since the financial meltdown intensified in September, leading to massive layoffs across several industries, a growing number of the unemployed have been turning to lower-paying jobs in the retail sector, which they thought could help them get by until they found full-time work in their specialized fields or retrain in other areas.
But given the shakiness of the retailing industry amid a series of bankruptcies, store closings and liquidations, laid-off workers are having a hard time finding any jobs. The situation got even tougher Monday, when consumer-electronics chain Circuit City filed for bankruptcy and said it would be laying off more people than previously announced.
John Challenger, chief executive of Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, noted that holiday hiring will fall significantly below last year's total, which was the lowest since 2003. And those with pink slips shouldn't count on new job opportunities even after the holidays, since even more retailers are expected to file for bankruptcy.
What's so striking, store executives say, is how desperate the applicants are.
Rob Duncan, chief operating officer of Alpine Access, a "virtual" call-center provider with 7,500 employees working from their homes across the country, estimated a 10 to 15 percent rise in applicants from a year ago. In the past, they were mostly stay-at-home moms looking for part-time work. Now the company, which handles customer service for stores such as J. Crew as well as tech support, debt collection and financial services, is seeing more men and more midlevel managers looking for at least 35 hours of work.
"They are looking for replacement income instead of supplemental income," Duncan said.
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