Whatcom County retailers are expected to hire 25 percent fewer seasonal employees than last year for the holiday shopping season.
The Washington State Employment Security Department estimates local retailers will hire 414 seasonal workers from October through December, down from 557 for the same period last year.
Across the state, the agency expects 13,461 seasonal hires, which is slightly less than the 2012 total of 13,743.
A variety of factors could be in play for the forecasted drop locally, said Jeff Robinson, manager of unemployment insurance research and forecasting for the agency. That includes shifting seasonal trends and current hiring patterns that could dampen part-time hiring.
Whatcom County retail has experienced job growth heading into the holiday season. According to the state, 11,200 people were estimated to be employed in retail locally in August, up 500 people compared to the same period in 2012. With more of these retail hires, stores may be better prepared to handle the increase of holiday shopping, Robinson said.
One factor that's not put into the forecast is the influence of the Canadian shopper. Canadian shopping could be as strong as last year, given the continued strength of the Canadian dollar. Currently the loonie buys about 97 U.S. cents; a year ago it was a little stronger, buying $1.01 U.S.
That drop probably isn't enough to change Canadian shopping habits, said Bill Gorman, interim executive director at the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce & Industry, given the savings Canadians experience shopping in the U.S.
"I don't expect it (Canadian shopping activity) to be much different from last year," Gorman said.
Gorman said he isn't surprised, though, that trends could point toward less brick-and-mortar holiday shopping. Some factors he's noticed are the rise of Cyber Monday and ordering online, as well as the anxiety around what's happening with the U.S. economy, including the current federal government shutdown and the uncertainty around the U.S. debt limit.
"It's an unsettled time right now, and it's hard to see where this is going," said Gorman, referring to what's happening in Washington, D.C.
Bill Tarrow, deputy communications director at the Employment Security Department, said he's noticed retailers are changing when they hire workers.
"Job seekers should be looking now, because retailers are bringing on workers earlier and earlier each year," Tarrow said.
In addition to checking employers' websites, the agency recommends that job seekers check with WorkSource and go2worksource.com for local job listings.