"Mass layoffs" in U.S. up 3 percent

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When Borders bookstores closed nationwide, 10,700 people lost their jobs.
CBS News

The jobless numbers that came out Friday were hardly encouraging. The government said the unemployment rate in August was stuck at 9.1 percent, with as many jobs lost as created.

Here's some more bad news: The number in a category the government calls "mass layoffs" has jumped by 3 percent. Mass layoffs are when employers let go of 50 or more people at one time.

CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy reports that when when Borders closed all of its book stores this summer, more than 10,000 people suddenly found themselves out of a job.

"We kinda all just walked around in a daze. We didn't know what to do," says former Borders employee Stacy Murray.

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Stacy used to supervise the inventory at a Borders in San Diego. When the store shut down, so did her family's finances. Stacy is married, with two young sons -- including 10 year-old Jacob. Money has always been tight. And without her income, her husband's paycheck isn't enough to pay all the bills.

"Now we're dipping into savings to put food on the table, pay rent on our apartment," Stacy says.

It's been a summer storm of pink slips. Along with Borders, Bank of America, Cisco, Lockheed Martin, and Goldman Sachs have all recently announced mass layoffs. In fact, the latest numbers show mass layoffs have jumped three percent this summer - with 145,000 people losing their jobs.

However, in the past 3 years, the number of mass layoffs has actually declined. That's good news, but economists say the numbers just aren't falling fast enough.

"They really need to be coming down much more rapidly to make a real dent in unemployment," says Jerry Nickelsburg, senior economist with UCLA Anderson Forecast.

The numbers didn't fall fast enough for Robert Ahlstrom. He spent four years working for the software company Novell - one of Provo Utah's most prominent businesses. Novell laid off more than 800 people in May, sending shockwaves through the city.

"My boss, he called me into the office and told me: 'You're one of the people that's gonna be laid off,'" Robert says.

Robert says he's lucky - he's getting severance pay. Now he spends his days looking for work -- and working on his baseball swing.

At just 7.5 percent, Utah's unemployment rate is lower than the national average, so Robert is confident he'll find a new job.

"I think things are gonna turn around. I'm optimistic things are gonna get better," Robert says.

But back in San Diego, where California's unemployment rate is second-highest in the nation at a whopping 12 percent, Stacy's search for a new job is much harder.

"How can the economy support all those people looking for jobs? It makes me feel like I have a lot more competition," Stacy says.

It's a competition she can't afford to lose.

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    Ben Tracy is a CBS News White House correspondent based in Washington, D.C.