Even with the national unemployment rate hovering around 5%, its lowest level in nearly five years, the labor force non-participation rate -- or those who have completely left the job market and aren't even counted in the employment figures -- is at levels not seen in almost four decades, meaning the pool of able and available workers remains quite large and is growing.
What's more, according to global outplacement service Challenger, Gray & Christmas, almost 59,000 workers were laid off in September, and nearly half a million have been fired so far in 2015, a 36% jump from the same period last year. Hewlett-Packard recently announced it was eliminating 25,000 to 30,000 jobs. Caterpillar recently let go 5,000 people, and Monsanto is laying off 12% of its workforce.
This means that for those businesses that are hiring, there is a ready workforce waiting to receive word of at least temporary employment. Good thing, too, because retailers are expecting higher sales this Christmas holiday and want to add people to their payrolls.
Getting into the holiday spirit
The National Retail Federation says the two-month November to December sales period should experience a near-4% increase this year to $630.7 billion, with online sales jumping as much as 6% to 8% from last year.
But the Challenger outplacement firm says some caution is also needed, as forecasts of higher sales don't necessarily mean more jobs. CEO John Challenger warned, "There are several factors that may prevent these strong sales expectations from translating into increased hiring. For one, we have seen increased hiring earlier in the year, which may preclude the need for a lot of extra hiring as the holidays approach."
He anticipates the retail industry to add some 755,000 seasonal workers to its payroll, but that's still only as many as it did last year.
Padding the payroll
Best Buy, however, just announced it was adding 600 employees to its largest distribution center in Dinuba, California, while L Brands is looking to add some 3,000 temporary workers at its own distribution center.
But these are mere drops in the bucket compared to the hiring plans of some retailers. The five companies that have announced the biggest additions to their employment rolls account for more than half of all the seasonal employment analysts expect this year, or about 395,000 jobs.
And that doesn't include shipping companies like UPS and FedEx, which will indirectly benefit from increased sales and have announced a combined 150,000 new seasonal jobs between them, with UPS accounting for about two-thirds of that number.
So who are these top five big employers?
5. Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT): 60,000 jobs
In September, the world's biggest retailer said that while it was giving current employees first dibs on extra hours, it planned on hiring 60,000 employees for the holidays (the same number it hired last year), and would pay them the same $9 an hour starting wage it started paying its regular employees earlier this year.
4. Kohl's (NYSE:KSS): 68,000 jobs
The struggling department store chain that just announced it was wading into the off-price and discount end of the retail market said it plans on hiring some 50 more employees at each of its 1,166 stores for the season, as well as 9,500 to work on distribution and e-commerce fulfillment and 660 to work in its credit department. That would give it a total of more than 68,000 new positions.
3. Target (NYSE:TGT): 70,000 jobs
Although Target laid off 1,700 workers earlier this year, let another 1,400 jobs go unfilled, and then fired a few hundred more during the summer, it also announced that for the third year in a row, it would be hiring 70,000 people for the Christmas season.
2. Macy's (NYSE:M): 85,000 jobs
Kohl's rival, Macy's, which is also expanding its presence in the off-price world, said it planned on hiring just as many people for the holiday crush as it did last year. The department store operator said approximately 85,000 jobs would be available at both its Macy's and Bloomingdale's stores, call centers, distribution centers, and online fulfillment centers.
The biggest of them all
So who plans to be the biggest employer of seasonal workers this year? Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN).
The e-commerce king is pulling out all the stops this year to make sure it has enough people on hand to meet consumer demand. It is hiring 100,000 temporary workers -- 25% more than it hired last year and equal to seasonal hiring at Wal-Mart and Toys-R-Us combined -- who will be spread across its 50 fulfillment centers and 20 sortation centers in the U.S. It also doesn't include the 25,000 full-time employees Amazon has put on the payroll.
This shows where retail is heading. As the National Retail Federation pointed out, e-commerce sales growth will far outstrip growth among brick-and-mortar competitors, with sales estimated to reach $105 billion, or 17% of the total. With Amazon.com as the biggest player, its investment in tens of thousands of additional employees suggests it may be planning on stealing an even bigger piece of the Christmas pie this year.
Rich Duprey has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon.com. The Motley Fool recommends FedEx and United Parcel Service. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.