Will this year's holiday-season hiring offer a stimulus to the jobless ranks?

As the days once again get shorter, and the stores once again fill up with Halloween costumes, economic pundits turn once again to that most tempting of seasonal sugarplums: holiday hiring. Every year between September and November, the unemployment ranks shrink as hundreds of thousands of workers find short-term jobs staffing department stores and UPS offices, gift shops and Santa booths. Most years, seasonal employment is a boon for college students and underemployed spouses, but this year, for thousands who have spent months looking for work, it's beginning to look like short-term salvation.

The million-dollar question is how many jobs will become available in the next few months. Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 2007 hires jumped by more than a million between September and their high point in November -- but last year, hires dropped by 237,000 during that period.