More workers available for part-time holiday jobs this year

Monday, November 5, 2001

During the past couple of years, retailers have faced tight labor markets in efforts to lure prospective employees for the Christmas holiday period. This year, more workers are available for the many part-time positions.

Retailers usually start revving up recruiting efforts in late September to obtain extra workers for November and December. The labor market is still not a lucrative one in the immediate Cape Girardeau area, but many retailers have already filled the majority of the needed vacancies.

"We're about through hiring for the holidays," said Gary McDowell, manager at JCPenney at Westfield Shoppingtown West Park in Cape Girardeau.

JCPenney, which adds about 35 to 40 workers during the holidays, only had to seek out about half of those workers.

"We have many of the same holiday workers year after year," said McDowell. "And this year, we had some great applications. We may have to add a few later in the season, but basically we have our holiday staff."

Help may be easier to find this year because the national unemployment rate is at 5.4 percent, compared with 3.9 percent a year ago. Some merchants say they are still recruiting on college campuses, in unemployment offices and on the Web, but they don't have to work as hard.

National unemployment totals for October were announced Thursday and show the biggest one-month jump in more than 21 years. Widespread job losses catapulted the unemployment rate from 4.9 percent in September to 5.4 percent.

Nearing capacity

Target Store, 202 Siemers Drive in Cape West Business Park, has been receiving applications for its 20 to 25 holiday jobs.

"We've had several applications and are near our capacity for the holiday jobs," said store spokesperson Joel Pipkin, an assistant manager. "We still have a few openings left."

There still may not be not be enough workers to go around in Cape Girardeau County during the Christmas season. As many as 1,000 to 1,200 workers are usually added as retailers throughout the county brace for the influx of shoppers. Retailers increase their staffs an average of 3.8 percent during the Christmas season.

"The labor market is still a little tight," said Jim Govro, manager of Westfield Shoppingtown.

Merchants throughout the mall are looking for holiday workers, and the customer service booth keeps a current list of mall job openings, Govro said.

Some retail business have their own lists of previous part-time workers, and depend on word-of-mouth referrals to fill holiday vacancies.

Some stores are hanging signs in the window. Some companies advertised holiday job openings with pamphlets stuffed into credit card bills. And, some posted "wanted" opportunities on Internet home pages.

Local figures could rise

Unemployment statistics tell the employment story here. About 36,000 workers are employed in Cape Girardeau County. That figure could swell to near 37,000 during the Christmas holiday shopping season.

Many of the area's retailers have already boosted their staff size and are awaiting the biggest shopping period of the Christmas season, the weekend after Thanksgiving.

The workforce in Cape Girardeau County stands at 37,174, with 35,815 working, for a 3.7 percent unemployment rate. That leaves 1,359 without jobs.

Workers are scarce in Perry County, where the work force totals about 10,900. With 10,589 people working, the Perry County unemployment rate is among the lowest in the state, at 2.8. In Bollinger County, the unemployment rate was under 5 percent in September but will soar higher when October totals are in. A total of 138 workers were left without jobs when Paramount Head Wear closed its factory Sept. 29 at Marble Hill, Mo.

Some majors companies nationwide, including Bloomingdale's, Macy's and L.L. Bean, expect to hire fewer helpers this year because of the decline in business following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and reduced sales forecasts for the holiday season.

rowen@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 133

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