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Seasonal jobs fade with the economy

With the economic shock waves continuing, one of the most visible effects this holiday season will be on temporary workers.

Or call it not-so-visible because the jobs are disappearing.

And not just at retail stores, which are cutting back amid low sales.

Temporary staffing companies in Lexington report the need for fill-in employees is dwindling as businesses of all types try to cope until at least the new year.

The hiring freezes couldn't come at a worse time for the recently laid off or for those hoping to earn some extra money for shopping or to squirrel away for tougher times that might be ahead.

David Adams, 24, works at one of Ford's plants in Louisville that is being idled for a longer-than-expected holiday break. He's hoping to work at Lexington's Amazon.com warehouse as he did last year to earn some extra money and "hold over through the holidays."

Retail stores are cutting back, too. Domestic stores cut 38,100 employees, or more than 11 percent of their workforce, in October alone, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

With Circuit City closing stores and chains such as Linens n' Things liquidating, the outlook is grim for hiring.

Target spokesman Kyle Thompson said the retail chain is cutting back on some seasonal hiring across the country. Firm numbers won't be in until January, but "with the soft sales environment, we are planning all areas of our business accordingly, which includes seasonal hiring," Thompson said.

Although Amazon's still hiring, Kathy Tipton of Integrity Staffing Solutions in Lexington said it's been tough finding businesses in need of her employees' help.

"It's cutbacks across the board," Tipton, a branch manager, said. "With their own staff, they're cutting back, so it means they're cutting back with the temporary pool, too."

It used to be that temps could find work filling in for vacationing workers, but not this year.

"Businesses aren't refilling those positions," she said. "They're just doing it internally, trying to run at the minimum head count possible until next year."

Many of Tipton's client businesses are in the industrial and manufacturing sector, and she's seen a big increase in applicants who have been laid off from those industries.

"Honestly, for me, I'm not really doing any recruiting because I have enough personnel now to fill anything that comes through the door," she said.

It's not unique to Lexington.

Justine Detzel of the state Office of Employment and Training said temporary employment was down 10 percent in October, to 46,200 compared with a year earlier.

Last November and December, the number of temporary employees statewide exceeded 56,000, she said.

The effect is felt, too, at the Integrity Staffing Solutions office dedicated to providing seasonal help at Amazon.com's warehouse in Lexington.

James English, the branch and recruiting manager at that office, said he expects a 25 percent drop in the number of workers needed this year by Amazon. Last year, they had about 2,500.

It's not necessarily the economy, though Amazon in October lowered its 2008 revenue outlook and said it expects annual sales to be $18.46 billion to $19.46 billion instead of the $20.1 billion forecast earlier.

The company has expanded its warehouses elsewhere, English said, meaning Lexington isn't as vital as in previous years.

Applications are down, too, from last year. This year, the staff is interviewing about 100 people a day instead of the 150 to 300 typical in previous years.

But that could be because Integrity Staffing dramatically cut its advertising spending because it didn't need to fill as many jobs. Last year, the company advertised in the Herald-Leader and local newspapers in 13 Central Kentucky counties, plus it ran television and radio ads. This year, it's just been advertising in the Herald-Leader, he said.

"If we're the only one out there hiring, it's a pretty good decision to cut a lot of advertising costs," he said. "And we've had more applicants that are more qualified than we've seen in the past. Because every applicant that I go interview is coming from a layoff" in manufacturing.

Wages are down slightly for the Amazon jobs. Last year, pay started at $11 an hour for day shifts. This year, it's down 50 cents because, English said, a peak season incentive rate couldn't be offered.

And higher-end pay for certain hours and shifts is down from last year after Amazon's financial analysis suggested the company wouldn't need to pay as much because "people are looking for jobs, and we should be able to fill those jobs," English said.

"The pay rate is very competitive compared to where they're coming from," he said. "It may be seasonal, but it may help someone get through a rough patch."

One of those in a rough patch is Brian Purcell of Georgetown, who filled out an application Tuesday.

He recently quit a manufacturing job that paid $8 an hour, he said.

"It's hard to make the car payment, the rent, everything. It's just tough," he said. "I'm getting by on the skin of my teeth right now.

"If this doesn't come through, I'm in trouble."

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