With the Triangle's unemployment rate again on the rise and approaching 9 percent, retailers are expected to have little trouble finding applicants for the holiday hiring season that kicks off this week.
Competition for jobs is likely to be stiff, and unemployed and part-time workers looking to boost their chances should apply now, as many retailers have already begun hiring and others will start soon.
"We kind of trickle them in, in the beginning, and then we start hiring really heavy in mid-October," said Leon Cooper, head of human resources for the Target store in Raleigh's North Hills shopping center.
The store has already filled some of the 35 to 50 positions it plans to add for the season. Target is hiring for a range of positions, from sales associates to food service staff, with some of those jobs expected to turn into permanent part-time positions, Cooper said.
Among the early applicants was Raleigh resident Laketia Lee, 25, who interviewed at the North Hills location on Monday.
Lee and her 6-month-old daughter moved from Maryland in August after Lee was laid off from her last job more than a year ago.
"I'm excited for new opportunities because I've been unemployed for so long. I was getting to the point where I was desperate almost," said Lee, who was hired after her interview. "It's my daughter's first Christmas, and I thought I wasn't going to be able to get her anything."
Holiday hiring is closely linked to consumer confidence, something that has been in short supply as the economic recovery has stalled.
The National Retail Federation is predicting that sales this holiday season will only rise 2.8 percent compared with last year's 5.2 percent.
The federation says hiring will be average, with retailers adding about 480,000 to 500,000 temporary workers. Last year, 495,000 workers were hired for the holiday season.
"Retailers try and predict what they think holiday sales are, but there are financial pressures that want them to be more cost-conscious," said Leif Kolflat, vice president of marketing for Raleigh-based Headway Workforce Solutions, a national job recruiter. "Labor is the most expensive component in running a retail enterprise, and because of that many times they look to cut labor."
Best Buy plans to slash its number of seasonal workers in half, cutting to 15,000 workers from last year's 29,000 jobs. Toys "R" Us will also reduce its holiday hiring by about 11 percent to 40,000 workers.
Many retailers are taking a wait-and-see approach, said Michael Doyle, a general manager at the hiring firm Manpower.
"They don't know if consumers are going to come out for the holidays and spend like they have in years past," he said. "We hear from our clients that there's a lot of nervous anxiety in the economy."
Among those not taking a wait-and-see approach is J.C. Penney, which is looking to hire about 37,000 positions nationally for the holidays, up about 23 percent from last year.
Each store will add as much as 25 percent to its normal staff to accommodate holiday traffic, and, like at Target, some jobs have the potential to turn into post-holiday positions, said Tim Lyons, a spokesman for the Texas-based department store chain.
"Stores will typically try to keep their best hires beyond the holidays," he said. "I've had store managers tell me that's how they find their best people."
Kohl's is hiring about 5 percent more people than last year. But the increase is a result of the company opening more stores, not because the retailer is seeing increased demand, spokeswoman Vicki Shamion said.
Kohl's has 1,100 stores, including 10 within 50 miles of Raleigh, and plans to hire an average of 35 seasonal workers at each.
Charlotte-based Belk and Cincinnati-based Macy's also expect to hire about 4 percent more workers nationwide than last year, while Wal-Mart will add positions comparable to previous years based on store need. The company could not provide historical hiring information.
The North Carolina Employment Security Commission is among those agencies helping to connect retailers with unemployed workers to help fill seasonal vacancies. Although retailers have been a little slow to contact the ESC, spokesman Larry Parker said he expects to see things pick up by late October.
"It's just a hair early," he said. "We've gotten a few things, but really it's in a few more weeks when we start to see it."