The period between Halloween and the December holidays is usually when shoppers are out in force and retail businesses bulk up their staffing to meet the rush. This year is no different in those regards, but with one key change from the recent past: seasonal hiring is declining to pre-pandemic levels, in another sign of economic volatility. 

Although the economy continues to be resilient, and the odds of a recession have decreased, this year’s trends in holiday hiring point towards continued economic uncertainty. A Job Seeker Confidence Index compiled by staffing firm ZipRecruiter found that by the second quarter of 2023 “Job seekers became more pessimistic across the board—about current labor market conditions, the medium term economic outlook, their personal finances, and their preparedness for the labor market.” 

It’s not just job seekers. According to Reuters, retailers are expected to add the fewest number of seasonal jobs since 2008, when the financial crisis shrank the economy. For example, this year Macy’s is expected to decrease hiring by 7 percent from last year and Dick’s Sporting Goods will decrease hiring by 4 percent. Target and UPS will maintain their hiring goals year-over-year, while Amazon will increase hiring by 67 percent.  

All told, however, retailers are projected to add just 410,000 jobs this year, according to Reuters, as opposed to 519,400 last holiday season. This hiring slowdown reflects reduced consumer spending and confidence, which is a result of elevated inflation rates, whittled down savings accounts, and shallower demand for goods and services.  

“I really do think this is emblematic broadly of what we’re seeing in the U.S. labor market, where demand for workers overall is fairly strong but down from where it was in the last year and a half,” Nick Bunker, director of North American economic research for Indeed, told the New York Times. 

How should workers navigate this downturn? 

The good news is that retailers can and will ramp up hiring if shopping demand outpaces projections. If that turns out to be the case, a lot more “Help Wanted” signs will appear in November and December than currently anticipated.  

Another strategy is to think long term. National Able Network can help place job seekers into seasonal employment, but for workers who qualify, training programs offered through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) offer opportunities to learn new skills and reenter the workforce in a more permanent capacity. Able’s signature IT Career Lab program offers another option to upskill and start a new career. 

As the holiday season begins, workers should bear in mind that seasonal employment may not be as plentiful this year as it has been in the recent past. But despite the fluctuating economy, finding new employment or starting a new career can still be at the top of your holiday shopping list.