American retailers expect holiday sales to rise 4.1 percent this season, to nearly $617 billion, as more shoppers earn steady incomes and plan to spend more on gifts, according to the National Retail Federation. It’s the first time in three years that projected annual sales growth for the November-to-December period has surpassed 4 percent.

Last year, holiday retail sales increased 3.1 percent, and the 10-year average is 2.9 percent, NRF said. Holiday sales account for nearly 20 percent of the retail industry’s $3.2 trillion in annual sales. Online sales alone are projected to grow 8 to 11 percent and reach $105 billion, NRF said. 

Steady job gains are giving Americans the financial security to buy presents and in some cases splurge more than in past years. Wage growth, however, remains stagnant, so that’s keeping many shoppers hooked on deep discounts.

"Consumers are in a much better place than they were this time last year, and the extra spending power could very well translate into solid holiday sales growth for retailers. However, shoppers will still be deliberate with their purchases, while hunting for hard-to-pass-up bargains," NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a statement.

The forecast excludes sales of autos, gasoline and restaurant meals and is based on several factors, including consumer credit, disposable personal income and previous monthly retail sales releases. NRF’s forecast aligns with New York-based consulting firm Deloitte, which said last month that it expects the improving U.S. economy to boost holiday sales from November to January by 4 to 4.5 percent.

The unemployment rate dipped to 5.9 percent last month, the first time it's been below 6 percent since summer 2008. Retailers are expected to hire 725,000 to 800,000 seasonal workers this fall, NRF said. That compares with 768,000 workers hired last holiday season, a 14 percent rise from 2012.