Seasonal hiring in retail nearly returned to pre-recession levels in 2011, as employment in the sector experienced a net gain of 718,500 during the final three months of 2011, according to an analysis of employment data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That marks a 14.5 percent improvement over the 627,500 seasonal jobs added during 2010 and falls just shy of the 720,800 added in 2007, when the economy still relatively strong.
The analysis of non-seasonally adjusted data by global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. found that while October hiring was down from a year earlier, strong job gains in November and December fueled the surge.  

November job gains increased 23 percent from 332,700 in 2010 to 409,800 this year. Meanwhile, December job gains were up 20 percent from a year earlier to 188,600, which is the largest number of retail jobs added in the final month of the year since 196,400 jobs were created in 2005.

“Seasonal hiring was better than expected this year, particularly since the recovery was stumbling a bit just as we were approaching the period when retailers make their hiring decisions,” said John A. Challenger, CEO of CG&C. “However, early sales and other measures to get people out to the stores and malls apparently created increased demand for extra holiday workers. Strong Black Friday sales likely contributed to the December job gains.”

Retail sales in December were up about 3.4 percent from a year earlier, according to a survey of 22 major chains by Thomson Reuters.  Meanwhile, online sales were up 15 percent from a year ago, which helped create jobs outside of retail, as shipping firms like UPS and FedEx bulked up their rosters to help fulfill all of the online orders.