Target Corp. said Monday that it plans to hire 80,000 to 90,000 temporary workers across the country for the holiday shopping season, down from the 92,000 it hired last year.

The decline in seasonal hires is in keeping with the discounter's cautious take on this year's holiday rush, which officially kicks off on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Predictions on how much U.S. shoppers will spend when they hit the stores this year vary, with uncertainties such as potential reduced federal spending and tax hikes -- the so-called fiscal cliff -- threatening to play Grinch.

Ron Friedman, head of the retail group at national accounting and consulting firm Marcum, said he isn't surprised that Target isn't staffing up as much. Retailers just don't expect to have the same sales growth as last year, he said.

"Nobody's doing as well," said Friedman. "The only winner in the group has been TJ Maxx."

Target, the nation's No. 2 discounter, hasn't given explicit guidance on sales expectations for its fourth quarter. However, it has said it expects same-store sales for the year to be up 3 percent from 2011, a slowdown from the 4.2 percent same-store sales growth it saw in the first half of this year.

"We've planned our business pretty conservatively, and we're not interested in driving sales for the sake of sales," Target CFO John Mulligan told industry analysts at a September presentation. "So, if people are going to do what they did last year and more, you might see us lag competitors again as it relates to [same-store] sales increases."

A Target spokeswoman said Monday that the company's seasonal hiring is affected by current staffers' availability and whether those workers are seeking additional holiday hours.

The Minneapolis-based retailer also noted that it's been hiring throughout the year, and that about 30 percent of the seasonal people the company hired last year for the holidays stayed on in year-round positions, both full time and part time. The company typically retains about 30 percent of its seasonal staff, a spokeswoman said.

Hiring for Target's distribution centers started in July, and hiring for store workers began this month. The hiring will continue through December.

Target is looking for workers to fill a variety of hourly positions in stores, such as sales-floor workers, cashiers and backroom staff. People interested in applying should go to

The National Retail Federation said last week that it expects holiday sales overall to grow 4.1 percent this year, slower than last year although still higher than the 10-year average. Likewise, the federation estimates that retailers will hire between 585,000 and 625,000 seasonal workers, roughly in line with the 607,500 they hired for the holidays last year.

The International Council of Shopping Centers, however, predicts slower sales growth of 3 percent.

Target rival Wal-Mart predicts it will hire more than 50,000 temporary workers for the holidays this year, up slightly from last year. Macy's forecasts hiring about 80,000 seasonal workers, up about 2.5 percent from last year.

Kohl's said it plans to hire 52,700 workers for the holidays, up about 10 percent from last year. Best Buy Co. in Richfield said it plans to hire 24,000 seasonal workers.

Steve Hine, research director at Minnesota's Department of Employment and Economic Development, said economists watch holiday hiring as a sign of the state of consumer spending.

"We're seeing some improvement in consumer spending," Hine said. "Consumers are still trying to get rid of a lot of debt that was accumulated prior to the recession. It's been a long, hard road for them."

He also noted that even though they're temporary, the holiday jobs are important because "a good share of them do translate into permanent positions later on."

Job seekers who have been out of work for a long time benefit by being able to put some recent work activity on their résumés, he said. "That has become important."

Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683