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Seasonal Hiring Boosts Inland Empire's Unemployment Picture

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California's unemployment rate decreases to 11.7 percent

By Chris Levister –

At Riverside's Galleria at Tyler shopping center and Inland Center Mall in San Bernardino it's beginning to look a lot like 'recovery'.

Good tidings are in store for thousands of the regions jobless as retailers ramp up their seasonal hiring this year in anticipation of more robust holiday sales.

New U.S. Labor Department figures show the Inland Empire's jobless rate dropped by 0.2 percent to 13.3 percent. Los Angeles County and the statewide unemployment rate saw declines by 0.2 percent respectively to 12.2 percent and 11.7 percent.

The year-over-year change October 2010 to October 2011 shows the nation added 239,000 new jobs (up 1.7 percent) It's late-November, of course, and holiday shopping is well under way. Despite consumer cautiousness and continued high unemployment, the National Retail Federation predicts holiday sales will rise almost 3 percent compared with last year. Online sales are expected to post double-digit gains.

According to data released by the California Employment Development Department (EDD), sales are expected to go up as much as 15 percent for online retailers.

Plus, this is the first year tablets like the iPad may make an impact on the retail landscape.

Target is among the national retailers that announced it's hiring more seasonal workers because of a merrier sales forecast.

The International Council of Shopping Centers is predicting increases between 2.3 and 3.5 percent since last year, the largest jump since the pre-recession days of 2006.

This year will be better than last, says EDD spokesperson Kevin Callori. "It's a long way from what in was five years ago but the rosier predictions are good signs."

Retail surveys suggest people are looking for bargains but they also are insisting on quality. EDD officials have been working with J.C. Penny, Khols, Costco, Best Buy, Macy's and Sears to fill holiday slots.

Macy is adding 65,000 seasonal employees this year to its stores, call centers and distribution centers.

Sears and Toy "R" Us announced they will bring back layaway hoping to entice more buyers.

NRF officials say hiring will continue to build throughout the holiday season right up to Christmas.

UPS and FedEx are also bringing on additional drivers and extra hands to handle a predicted surge in online sales.

Inland retailers, staffing firms and both federal and state employment statistics suggest that much of the new hiring may be the first real signs of a thaw.

Katie Luna who operates an online jewelry store specializing in one-of-a-kind pieces has hired two people to help with production.

The Rialto single mother of two children says business is up considerably.

"There's a lot of pent up demand and anxiety. One minute people are being told to save the next they are told to spend," said Luna.

The new hires she says are busy mining the company's website database for new customers. She doesn't rule out the possibility of the temporary work becoming more permanent.

The boost in holiday e-commerce may also be the result of more mail-order catalogs going digital. Retailers hope it will expand their advertising distribution without expanding their costs.

"More people looking at your catalog for free - that's a good thing because that's going to increase not only your Web sales, but it's going to increase your store sales, too," said Rachel Fisher, a retail industry analyst.

She says the increase in spending would come despite most consumers reporting they are more price-conscious than last year.

Fisher says shoppers are looking for add-ons like free shipping and cash rewards.

"The only pieces that really change about free shipping is how early it's offered, how often it's offered, and what the threshold is for offering it."

How much of a boost in sales and hiring this all means, is an open question. Outplacement firm Challenger Gray and Christmas said holiday hiring is on track to match that of last year. But it's still early, and hiring will only pick up if employers believe consumer demand is strong.

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