NEW YORK, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Retailers are hoping forecasts for a cool, dry Black Friday across much of the U.S. will drive millions of shoppers to their stores in the kickoff to the key holiday shopping season.

But with many shoppers facing financial pressure, U.S. holiday spending is expected to rise at the slowest pace in five years. Most major retailers slashed their seasonal hiring.

“Consumers are still being very cautious, so if holiday sales do go up, we think it will be due to inflation raising prices,” said Jessica Ramirez, a senior research analyst at Jane Hali & Associates.

U.S. shoppers plan to spend an average $875 on holiday purchases -- $42 more than last year -- with clothing, gift cards and toys at the top of most shopping lists, according to a survey of 8,424 adults conducted in early November by the National Retail Federation, a U.S. retail trade group.

A record 130.7 million people are expected to shop in-store and online in the U.S. on Black Friday this year, it estimates.

Executives say the rise of online shopping has made Black Friday less important as a single-day event. Retailers from Macy's to Amazon now launch deals as early as October and often offer additional discounts closer to Christmas, Macy's CEO Jeff Gennette told investors this month.

Most U.S. stores were closed on Thanksgiving but will open to shoppers at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. on Friday. A coalition of activist organizations, including antiwar group "Act Now to Stop War and End Racism," has called for "disruptions and rallies" at major commercial centers on Black Friday to demand a ceasefire and end of aid to Israel. The New York Police Department said on Wednesday that "there are currently no credible threats to any individual event or to New York City in general" over the holiday weekend.

In post-earnings calls this week, retailers from Kohl's to Nordstrom told investors they had invested in jackets, cashmere sweaters and Ugg boots to lure Christmas shoppers after an unseasonably warm October. Macy’s also touted Black Friday deals on seasonal attire, including 60% to 65% off men’s and women’s coats, according to its website.

To be sure, some retailers hold their biggest markdowns for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and big-box players including Walmart, Lowe’s and Home Depot maintained or deepened their advertised discounts.

Whether those deals will convince inflation-weary consumers to open their wallets is the biggest worry for retailers on Friday. Several categories of merchandise that were top sellers on Black Friday in previous years have been hit hardest by the recent downturn in discretionary spending, said Mari Shor, a senior equity analyst at Columbia Threadneedle Investments.

Best Buy, for instance, is offering between $100 and $1,600 off electronics including laptops, flat-screen TVs and KitchenAid mixers after telling investors this week that shoppers are still holding off on big-ticket purchases.

A downturn in luxury spending has also prompted department stores, including Bergdorf Goodman and Nordstrom to offer steep discounts on items such as Balenciaga shoes and Oscar de la Renta earrings. “Designer remains pressured, primarily in shoes and handbags, and we continue to right-size our inventory to meet that demand,” Nordstrom President Pete Nordstrom told investors on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Katherine Masters; Editing by Josie Kao)