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Economy's Holiday Wish List: Buy Big-Ticket Items

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Warning. It's only September and we have a story about holiday shopping. Large retailers like Wal-Mart and Toys 'R' Us are hiring tens of thousands of people for the upcoming holiday shopping season.

But NPR's Ailsa Chang reports that this seasonal hiring is not the best measure of how well the economy is doing.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: This holiday season, Toys 'R' Us is predicting one of its hottest sellers is going to be the Doc McStuffins doll by Disney. She's a girl who gives medical check-ups to her stuffed animals and toy fire trucks.

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIO)

CHANG: To meet demand for Doc McStuffins and other big-name items, Toys 'R' Us has announced it is adding 45,000 jobs. That's a jump from the 40,000 seasonal workers it hired last year.

Wal-Mart is expecting to hire more than 50,000 people, also an increase from the last holiday.

But before you think that means consumer confidence and retail sales are bolting up, economists say think again.

Mesirow Financial's Diane Swonk says what you really want to see is an upswing in sales for big ticket items.

DIANE SWONK: Vehicle sales, home sales, everything you fill a home with, appliances, furniture, carpeting. And that's what's really been missing in the retail picture for some time now.

CHANG: Swonk says small ticket items just aren't a good indicator of the overall health of the economy.

Also, while Toys 'R' Us and Wal-Mart will add workers this Christmas, Target says it's going with fewer employees than last fall.

Ailsa Chang, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.

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