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'Tis The Season ... To Be $anta

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Hey, if you're looking to make a few extra bucks, have I got a gig for you. It's an unusual job you would probably never think of: playing Santa Claus, or perhaps Mrs. Claus.

I thought about it after hearing Friday's grim September jobs report, which came on the heels of a recent chat I had with Bob Mindte, the owner of Santaforhire.com of Newport Beach, Ca., the nation's largest provider of live St. Nicks, for assorted functions around the country.

If you're about to snicker or ridicule the idea on the grounds that you're not interested in work that pays chicken feed, don't. Depending on the time and location, you can earn as much as $300 an hour, or say between $2,000 and $8,000 for five weeks' work.

First, though, to some reaction to that miserable employment report, which shows the economy is still hemorrhaging jobs -- at a greater than expected 263,000 in September and 7.2 million 22 months into the recession.

Based on these numbers, it should now be clear to everybody that those so-called financial experts who've been predicting a decided upturn in the number of working Americans before year end have one or both feet in La La Land.

Interestingly, the word on Wall Street Friday -- following the early morning announcement of a spurt in the jobless ranks to a 26-year high of 9.8% -- was that a number of brokerage economists might soon hike their projected peak in the percentage number of out-of-work Americans during the present economic cycle. If that happens, talk of a jobless recovery will balloon from a murmur into a roar. And any thoughts of a speedier than expected economic rebound will become increasingly suspect, which is the last thing Wall Street wants to hear.

The expectation, generally, is that the unemployment rate will peak in the 10.3% to 10.5% range. However, some economists see a considerably higher number if there's a further significant economic setback, which, in turn, could cause consumers to pull back even more. Under such a scenario, Argus Research economist Richard Yamarone tells me. "you could see 11.5% unemployment." Describing the present employment environment as terrible, he doesn't see any improvement until around mid-2010. "It's likely the economy will spin its wheels for a while and the jobs picture will remain stagnant," he says.

Meanwhile, while I don't operate an employment service on the side, I thought I'd alert the non-working population -- currently about 15.1 million, which would expand to more than 16.6 million if we hit an 11.5% jobless rate -- to the prospects of some temporary work, playing either Santa Claus or Mrs. Claus. The job embraces roughly a five-week period, Post-Thanksgiving through year end.

A couple of weeks ago, Mindte told me he figured his business, reflecting the economic downturn, would likely drop about 10% this year. So far, though, the company's figures aren't bearing out this projected decline as his demand for Santas is about on par with last year's levels, he says.

Mindte's firm has provided more than 1,000 Santas nationally for assorted activities, notably for malls, parties and charities, and three years ago it filled a request for one from the White House. It has also provided Santas for overseas functions.

Here's what Santa economics look like. Mindte's charge is based on a community's income and demographics and a Santa can generally earn anywhere from $20 an hour in a mall (usually 10 hours a day) to $300 an hour for a Christmas or New Year's Eve party in Manhattan. Santas collecting for charities traditionally make $25 to $50 an hour, while party Santas will pull down about $150 an hour. An accompanying Mrs. Claus will generally earn about half the hourly rate.

If you're interested, Mindte, who is seeking to expand the company's number of available Santas, prefers grandfather-type St. Nicks, generally between the ages of 55 and 75. They're also required to have real beards, either natural white or bleached white. As for weight, "it's okay to be overweight, but not obese," he says.

There are no fees paid by would-be Santas. The companies doing the hiring pay all fees.

To become a working Santa and get paid to bellow to one and all ho, ho, ho and a merry Christmas, get all the particulars by e-mailing Info@Santaforhire.com.

It could be, especially if you're out of work, a jolly good opportunity.

Write to Dan Dorfman at Dandor-dan@aol.com.