This Christmas is supposed to be a very green one for retailers. Sales are predicted to be up more than 6 percent from a year ago.
But for storeowners, there is still a missing ingredient for a perfect Christmas, reports CBS News Correspondent Hattie Kauffman for The Early Show.
While the shoppers may be out in force this year, missing are the hoards of holiday job seekers.
This year the most pervasive signs of Christmas at the mall are not the boughs and holly but the "help wanted" signs.
"I've been the manager of this store for seven years, and so far, this is the toughest year that we've had in hiring for Christmas," says David Small, manager of J.C. Penney at Glendale Galleria.
The economy is booming, and unemployment is at a 29-year low. Consequently, analysts say, fewer and fewer people want holiday jobs.
"In past years the professional accountant or salesperson or other occupations - they might go out and find a temporary job for the holiday season because they needed the money," says retail analyst Bruce Van Kleek, vice president of the National Retail Federation in Washington, D.C.
"Right now [with] the economy being the way it is, people are comfortable about their own personal situation," he says.
"In addition, the younger people, the children of the baby boomers, for example, are the products of very affluent lifestyles, and they frankly don't need to go out and find work. They get money from Mom and Dad," he adds.
Storeowners say they put out the help wanted signs earlier this year, but, with the shopping season in full swing, many positions remain unfilled.
"It's been difficult for me to find good experienced help," says a manager at Sunglass Hut.
A stationery store owner says, "We've been looking for a long time, and it's been hard to find good help."
And a shoe storeowner adds, "We hope we'll get the right people, but so far we haven't gotten them."
Job seekers are clearly in the driver's seat. With pages and pages of help wanted ads, the few applicants out there were certain of finding work.
"I just got an application from Ralph Lauren, and they told me to come right back because they have another opening, and they have a manager there that might hire me right now," notes applicant Dale Taylor.
To lure applicants, some J.C. Penney stores offer gift certificates just for filling out an application. Other stores are increasing their employee discount. But analysts say the big draw remains money.
"Clearly wages have increased as much as $1.50 to $2.00 an hour over the minimum wage in a lot of markets," notes Van Kleek.
"It's hard because we're just a small store, and we're competing with Bloomingdale's and Macy's and large chains, so we've definitely had to raise our salariesÂ…. With some retail experience - probably $8 an hour," reports one stationery storeowner
"Five dollars and 75 cents used to be our hiring-in rate but for the holidays we've had to go between $6.05 and $7 an hour," Small explains.
So for those hoping to stuff their stocking with extra cash this holiday season, mall employers are playing Santa.
If the stores don't manage to fill their sales spots in the near future, one side effect could be longer lines as shoppers cope with fewer salespeople and less experienced staff. So perhaps this year more than ever, take this advice: Shop early.
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Copyright 1999 CBS. All rights reserved.
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