Holiday hiring is set to hit a multiyear high in 2018

With U.S. economic growth strong and unemployment at a low not seen in nearly two decades, retailers are expected to hire more than 700,000 seasonal workers for the December holidays. That's the most since 2015, according to a Challenger Gray Christmas analysis of federal jobs data, and the intense demand for holiday help is driving some companies to bid up wages and perks to match full-time employee compensation levels.

Target has announced plans to hire 120,000 workers for the season, a 20 percent increase from last year and the largest temporary staff addition seen since the outplacement firm began tracking the statistic in 2012. Kohl's expects to hire 90,000 employees. Macy's is adding 80,000 temporary workers, JCPenney is adding 18,000 and craft supplies retailer Michael's plans to bring 15,000 seasonal employees on board.   

Hiring at package delivery companies responsible for making sure holiday gifts get to their intended recipients also is expected to be robust during their busiest season. FedEx plans to add 55,000 seasonal employees for the holiday rush, 5,000 more than last year.

Rival UPS plans to bring 100,000 people on board, an increase from 95,000 for the holidays a year ago. Atlanta-based UPS said the full- and part-time positions range from package handlers to driver-helpers. The part-time roles could lead to full-time employment, a career path that many senior UPS executives -- including CEO David Abney -- have followed.

"Retailers have been aggressively hiring seasonal workers since July to combat the tight job market," Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger Gray, said in a statement. "This holiday season will be a good time for workers who have had trouble finding employment or those who are discouraged or marginally attached to the labor force, as retail, transport and warehousing jobs will be plentiful."

To find the talent they need, companies are offering competitive wages and perks that would ordinarily go to full-time workers. Target, for instance, is offering starting pay of $12 per hour. The Minnesota-based chain also will also award a randomly selected hourly worker from each store and distribution center a $500 gift card and a $500 donation to a local nonprofit organization of their choice. Macy's seasonal workers are eligible to receive quarterly bonuses if they reach certain goals.

Total holiday sales between November and January are expected to top $1.1 trillion an increase of more than 5 percent from $1.05 trillion a year earlier, according to Deloitte. Though most sales occur in physical stores, online spending continues to grow. Cybersales may rise as much as $134 billion during the 2018 holiday season, during which retailers earn most of their profits.

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