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Hiring 50,000 McDonald’s workers signals larger shift in economy

Employment specialists are cheered by the McDonald’s jobs because a significant portion of the hiring is likely to involve teenagers or people without a college degree. The teen unemployment rate is currently 24.5 percent.

For people seeking employment, the Golden Arches has a message: We may have a McJob for you.

Yes, McDonald’s is hiring … big time.

On Tuesday, in what it is terming National Hiring Day, the fast-food giant took applications for more than 50,000 jobs in 14,000 U.S. restaurants, which means 7 percent more burger-flippers, French fryers, cashiers, as well as managers. The chain says it would not be surprised to end up with more than 250,000 applications.

The main reasons the company, based in Oak Brook, Ill., is hiring: It expects a strong summer season, and some restaurants are moving to a 24-hour schedule, which will require an additional shift.

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Employment specialists are cheered by the McDonald’s jobs because a significant portion of the hiring is likely to involve teenagers or people without a college degree. The teen unemployment rate is currently 24.5 percent.

“These are the types of jobs we need,” says John Challenger, an employment expert at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement firm in Chicago. “This is especially good news for people who bore the brunt of the recession.”

The new hiring, McDonald’s estimates, translates into an extra $518 million in annual wages and salaries, or about $1.4 million per day. This will help federal and local treasuries, since the income will result in $54 million in payroll taxes. Also, the hiring will generate an additional $1.4 billion in annual spending, or $3.5 million per day, the company estimates, using a statistical multiplier.

“Their estimates are quite reasonable,” says economist Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pa. “Especially since most of the people they are hiring are people who will likely turn around and spend the money.”

In fact, Naroff says, what McDonald’s is doing is consistent with a shift taking place in the economy: Businesses can no longer provide more goods or services by just increasing productivity.

“As the economy begins to expand, there is more demand, so you need to add the extra worker,” he says. “In the case of McDonald’s, you don’t want it to be slow food.”

His comment is echoed by Elaine Diekmann, manager of a New York City McDonald’s, which is adding three to five new people. “We are trying to make customer service better,” she says.

McDonald’s says it got the idea of a national day of hiring from its West Coast franchisees, which held hiring days in April and August of last year. They hired 13,000 workers in total. And they received 65,000 applications, says Danitra Barnett, vice president for U.S. human resources at McDonald’s.

On Tuesday, “our applicant flow has been phenomenal,” she says.

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Some applicants have previous experience with the chain and hope that will give them a leg up. That’s the case with Jonathan Harris, who was applying at a McDonald’s at Sixth Avenue and 47th Street in Manhattan.

Harris, a student at LaGuardia Community College, says he worked for the chain from 2007 to 2009. He is hoping his persistence — he has applied to eight McDonald’s restaurants in Manhattan for a job — pays off. One aspect of the job that he says he likes: “You can start at a low position and rise up in the company.”

According to Barnett, more than 70 percent of McDonald’s managers started as “crew” — the term the company uses for the staff who do things like take orders and prepare food.

That applies to Diekmann, who says she started working at McDonald’s in 1973 in San Diego. With her 37 years working for the company, she has a good idea of what type of people she wants to hire.

“High-energy, friendly people who want to be part of a team,” she says of the additional people she plans to take on.

Some hirees may ultimately end up working at the company’s headquarters: Forty percent of the corporate managers, including current President Jan Fields, started as crew.

Barnett herself started as a crew member in the Detroit area when she was in high school. She subsequently worked as an hourly manager, a salaried manager and a restaurant supervisor before moving into corporate human relations.

The idea of working for McDonald’s in a management capacity appeals to Harris. “I wouldn’t mind being a general manager one day,” he says.

He hopes to hear by the end of the week if he is hired. Most of the hiring decisions will be made in the next few weeks.