Chicagoans search for scarcer holiday work

CHICAGO And the latest jobless figures are not offering workers much encouragement.

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits has hit the highest level in seven years.

And Sears plans to close seven more stores in February, bringing the total to 19 stores to close by early next year.

This is the time of year when many businesses bulk up on staffing to deal with holiday crowds. With 10 million Americans out of work, there are crowds looking for work because many employers are cutting back.

At this time of year, P.O.S.H. on State Street usually sees bus loads of out-of-towners looking for a unique gift. Not this year. So an extra salesperson isn't needed.

"I hate to hire someone and say, 'We can promise you x-number of hours,' and in reality, if business doesn't require it, then you're having to cut back hours," said Karl Sorensen, P.O.S.H.

The economy, plus construction on Wabash, seems to be keeping customers away from Designs by Rosa, where seasonal gifts and assortments of flowers are ready to go. While owner Rosa Yamada is seeing fewer customers, she's seeing more people looking for work.

"They're looking. And I have never seen as many people coming into the store looking for work," said amada.

In October, only 65,900 jobs added in retail, the lowest since October of 1991 when 62,600 were added.

"Discretionary spending, which is what happens during the holiday season, is going to be down. More and more consumers are moving to the discount stores. The middle level retailers, the department stores, are really getting hit hard," said John Challenger, Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Challenger heads an outplacement firm that reported the data. He says there are jobs out there and those who are looking need to be aggressive, especially now.

Nancy Jurasek said she can't wait for next year. She's caring for her sick daughter and looking for a customer service or clerical job. But she says finding seasonal work or a long-term position very tough.

"It's pretty hard. There's a lot of people going for the same job. There could be 2,000 people for the same position," said Jurasek.

There are jobs out there. Challenge says industries seeing growth include healthcare, energy, accounting and agriculture. And there are retailers looking for help. Department store giant Macy's said despite the economic downturn, they are hiring extra holiday employees.

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