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Retail hire looking bleak this season

September 23, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Millions of out-of-work Americans may be catching a break. Congress appears poised to extend unemployment benefits for several more weeks. That's the good news. The bad news is that the job market is looking very bleak heading into the holiday season.EDD offices across California are filled with people who have been without a job for more than a year.

Congress is working on a 4th extension of unemployment benefits boosting the total number of eligible weeks to 92.

Jobless benefits are normally 26 weeks.

"What Congress is doing is addressing the fact that there's a lot of people that have been looking, have not been able to come up with something, and they need some kind of sustenance to help them through this period," said Loree Levy, CA Employment Development Dept.

That'll help 66,000 Californians who are set to run out of benefits this month. Plus another 100,000 who'll need it by the end of the year.

Curtis McInnis, a former heating and air conditioning repairman, is relieved that help will be available longer. He has been out of work since June of 2008.

"It gets me going for another three months, December 13th. Then I have to reapply for another extension," said McInnis.

He would be eligible for the extension Congress is debating, if his current one which just got approved Tuesday, runs out.

The unemployment extension could be timely. Stores are usually gearing up for holiday hiring about now.

But 40 percent of retailers surveyed by the human resources consulting firm, the Hay Group, said they expect to hire up a quarter fewer seasonal workers than last year.

That's because consumers are geared to spend less.

"Normally, we do the classic 'spend way too much.' So this year, we're going to rope it in and make everything," said shopper Molly Eleen.

"Lower spending translates into fewer people needed in the stores," said Professor Harley Shaiken, UC Berkeley Labor Economist. "Few people hired, fewer consumers out there, the recovery itself slows. That's the danger we face."

At some point, the Legislature is going to have to address the state's unemployment fund, which is broke and paying out using federal loans to pay out benefits. By the end of next year, it's projected to be nearly $18 billion dollars in the hole.

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