By  on December 5, 2011

A robust start to the holiday season helped push November retail hiring to its highest level since 2007.

According to an analysis of retail jobs by the outplacement firm of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, retailers added 423,500 jobs during November, the highest total for any fourth-quarter month since 465,400 positions were created in November 2007 and 27.3 percent higher than the 332,700 hires made during the month last year. Combined hiring for October and November reached 547,200, up 14.8 percent from 2010 levels for the two months.

“While we expected holiday retail hiring to be about the same as a year ago, stronger-than-expected sales on both Black Friday and Cyber Monday could result in a late hiring surge that could push December employment gains up over last year’s levels,” said John Challenger, chief executive officer of the outplacement firm.

The two-month total lags the sum for the final three months of 2010 by 80,400. Last year, 150,800 retail jobs were added in December, raising the three-month total to 627,600, a 26.6 percent increase over 2009 but still below the 12-year average of about 647,500. The median figure for December since 1999 is 179,192. Reaching that level this month would mean a net creation of about 726,400 jobs for the season, making it the best year since 720,800 holiday hires were made in 2007.

The two worst years for retail hiring since 1999 coincide with recessions — the 585,300 new jobs added in 2001 was the lowest figure until 324,900 were added in 2008. The best year was the least recent of those studied by Challenger: In 1999, 849,400 retail positions were created.

The National Retail Federation estimated a 7 percent increase in Black Friday sales this year and IBM said that the amount of money spent by an average consumer on Cyber Monday surged 33 percent. This contributed to hiring by FedEx and UPS as well, which plan to add a combined 75,000 to their payrolls to get through the holiday season.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas uses data that isn’t adjusted for fluctuations in seasonal hiring to capture actual holiday hiring activity, whereas the Labor Department reports seasonally adjusted numbers. On Friday, the Labor Department reported that apparel and accessories stores added 26,700 workers in November, raising employment to 1.49 million, while department stores shed 400 jobs to employ 1.5 million.

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