Temp jobs outlook? ’Tis the seasonal

Maryland’s unemployment rate rose in October to its highest point since the recession began, but there’s hope for jobs in a report showing seasonal retail positions may surpass 2008’s poor numbers.

The state’s unemployment rate inched up one-tenth of a point to 7.3 percent, according to figures released last week by the Department of Labor. This comes even though StateStat, Maryland’s data-tracking Web site, reported more than 4,200 new jobs as a direct result of stimulus money.

While the jobless figures are gloomy, those looking for temporary retail work during the holiday may find it just a little easier than last year’s difficult season.

Holiday retail positions around the country are predicted to increase compared to 2008, but only because last year was the worst holiday hiring season since 1989.

During a normal year nationally, about 600,000 retail positions open up from October to December. Last year, 384,000 temporary jobs opened. This year is expected to be lower than the normal level, but an improvement over last year, said Challenger, Gray and Christmas, an outplacement consulting firm.

However, there is more competition for each job.

“The stronger sales figures heading into the holidays could boost seasonal hiring above last year’s meager activity,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray and Christmas. “However, it may also encourage more people to enter the holiday job market.”

Maryland’s seasonal employment numbers are projected to be on a par with, if not worse than, last year’s, according to Maryland Retailers Association President Tom Saquella.

“The two biggest cost factors for retailers are payroll and inventory and they’re keeping a tight lid on both this season,” Saquella said. “I would describe retailers as cautiously optimistic.”

A paycheck is not the only reward for seasonal employees, he said.

“Most stores offer a nice discount for employees, sometimes 25 percent off,” Saquella said. “As many people go to work for the discount as they do for the money.”

Maryland payrolls reported gains in October in durable goods manufacturing, administrative and support services, and local education. Construction, retail and the financial sector saw job losses, according to a statement from Alexander M. Sanchez, secretary of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

“We have not yet seen the kind of broad-based, sustained job growth that would signal a clear path to recovery, and we still face many challenges in helping unemployed Marylanders get back to work,” Sanchez said.

Part-time work may be a way to edge back into the full-time work force, said the Susquehanna Workforce Network in Havre de Grace.

“We’re encouraging them to look for a variety of employment opportunities,” said Bruce England, the network’s executive director.

“Some will be needing to find some temporary or interim work before they are able to find their desired full-time employment. Obviously now we have more people unemployed than in many of the past years.”

Susquehanna counseled a record number of clients looking for work during the 2009 fiscal year as Maryland’s unemployment rate grew from 4.4 percent to 7.2 percent.

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