Lower N.H. Unemployment Means A Mixed Bag For Holiday Seasonal Work

Nov 28, 2014

Martina Ramsey, a full-time employee who started as a seasonal employee two years ago at Josh's Toys & Games in Nashua
Credit Sheryl Rich-Kern for NHPR

The New Hampshire Retail Association expects us all to do more shopping this holiday season.  The group projects a 4.3 percent jump in sales, slightly higher than national forecasts.

In anticipation, New Hampshire retailers, warehouses and delivery services are recruiting temporary workers. And while that bodes well for the job market, not all employers and employees find what they’re looking for.

Only about a day after the ghoulish costumes go onto clearance racks, retailers turn up the mistletoe music, and bring out the garlands and glitter. It’s a setting shoppers have come to expect year after year.  

But what they haven’t seen until lately is the plethora of “Help Wanted” signs.

That influx began last holiday season when New Hampshire employers added seven thousand jobs from October to December – the highest increase since 2000.

It's really difficult to find people. I suppose they might be looking for jobs that are higher paying, although places are starting close to ten dollars an hour. But it doesn't seem to be enough.

The state’s Department of Labor expects a similar or greater uptick this year, but economist Annette Nielson says it will be with a smaller labor pool.

"Last year the unemployment rate was 5.2%. The latest unemployment rate for New Hampshire is now at 4.2%."

It’s a Saturday afternoon in mid-November and Dee Sherman is managing a gift basket cart at the mall in Nashua.

"It's been hard finding employees this year to work in the kiosks. I've put up 'Now Hiring' signs, postings on Craigslist. In the past month, I've received maybe four people who wanted information on the position."

Heidi Bohegian manages the Sterlingwear clothing shop nearby. She says she gives her current employees more hours rather than hire temporary help.

"Almost every store in the mall is hiring throughout the year. And it's really difficult to find people. I suppose they might be looking for jobs that are higher paying, although places are starting close to ten dollars an hour. But it doesn't seem to be enough."

Josh Heinzl stops by his toy store in the Manchester mall, one of five he owns in the region. He nods approvingly as a salesperson plays catch with a little girl.

Heinzl says he has plenty of applicants who like the fun atmosphere. Off-peak, he typically employs around 30 people among the stores.

"Depending on the levels, our staff doubles to triples." When he's asked why some people come in for a temporary job, Henz says, "Temporary jobs aren't just temporary. We invite a lot of our holiday staff to join us as part of our year-round team."

Eric Masimula of Manchester hopes to land a seasonal position at FedEx
Credit Sheryl Rich-Kern for NHPR

Holiday jobs can give some a foot in the door. But staffing experts also caution that retail hours and wages fluctuate with the economy.

Nicole Horan of HW Staffing of Nashua recruits seasonal workers for an online distribution center.

"On occasion you might have someone disappointed because they're working a job and they really, really like it there. It's up to the people filling in the positions to manage the expectations of the employee and say 'We can't make you any promises.'

But for those scrounging for reliable income, a six-week stint is better than nothing. At least that’s how Eric Masimula sees it. 

The sixty-eight year-old says he struggles to pay the monthly rent. He sits at the unemployment office in Manchester waiting to interview for a job loading packages for FedEx.

A wanted-for-hire sign in Nashua
Credit Sheryl Rich-Kern for NHPR

"It's going to be a temporary job, but with a prospect of becoming full time...I really need this job. I've been without a job for quite some time. Unfortunately, I was foreclosed in 2011 during those hard times."

The good news for job hunters like Masimula is that heavy online shopping cranks up the demand for package handlers, truck drivers and other positions that serve the retail sector.

Across the country, FedEx is adding 50,000 jobs this season; UPS, 95,000. Whether this ramp-up will spill over into the New Year is anyone’s guess.

Back at the mall in Nashua, Dee Sherman is handing out samples. 

"I work a full time 45-hour work week and then 30 to 40 hours here. I love it. I don't sleep a lot, so I like to be busy."

Forecasters predict this year, companies will hire more than 800 thousand seasonal workers like Sherman — the biggest surge since 1999.