Who needs Ten Commandments when modern theologians agree you can satisfy all of your daily moral and spiritual needs with just seven and a half things? Here they are:
Thing One: Jobs Friday: Today is Econo-Nerd Christmas, which unlike normal Christmas comes once every month. It's Jobs Friday, when at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time the Bureau of Labor Statistics stuffs itself down the nation’s chimneys to leave the latest employment statistics in the shoes of all good girls and boys. Economists, on average, expect the unemployment rate to hold steady at 8.5%, according to a Bloomberg survey, which is awful, but less awful than the nearly 10% rate at the worst of the recession. Economists think nonfarm payrolls grew by 140,000 jobs, down a bit from 200,000 jobs in December.
Thing Two: Jobs in Perspective: 140,000 jobs is better than no jobs, according to my math, but that gain will still leave the nation's level of payroll employment nearly six million jobs lower than at the start of the recession. And it generally takes about 150,000 jobs a month just to keep the unemployment rate steady. A recent study by Hamilton Place Strategies suggests there could be three million people out of work and not being counted on the labor rolls because they have simply given up trying. If and when they start looking for jobs again, they could push the unemployment rate higher as the government starts to notice they're out of work. (h/t Ben White) And a college degree might not even help the long-term unemployed get a new job, writes Bonnie Kavoussi.
Thing Three: False Spring in Europe: Euro-zone manufacturing and service-sector activity was surprisingly not horrible in January, new reports showed this morning, raising just the slightest bit of hope that the euro-zone can avoid falling into a recession this year. Highly doubtful, with the austerity craze sweeping the region and the damage already done by a credit squeeze. But anyway the euro and European stock markets are rising this morning on the news. Meanwhile, Greece continues to negotiate with its private creditors for a new deal to work out its debt problems, talks that Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker hilariously described as "ultra-difficult." But don't worry, the talkers promise us, these talks will wrap up successfully any day now. They've been saying that for weeks.
Thing Four: SEC's Wrist-Slap Olympics: The SEC routinely gives huge breaks to major Wall Street firms that settle civil fraud charges, the New York Times reports, letting them continue to raise cash easily and otherwise go about their business with little hindrance. The SEC protests that its goal is to protect investors rather than punish firms, but it's part of a larger pattern of the Wall Street watchdog taking it easy on the Too Big to Fail Set.
Thing Five: Robo-Signing Settlement Blues: Speaking of too big to fail, it looks like the approaching $25 billion settlement between the states, the Obama administration and the nation's biggest banks over claims of mortgage-foreclosure malpractice is going to fall short of what homeowners really need, write Loren Berlin and David Levine. Banks are going to shell out cash to help homeowners as part of the deal, but borrowers most deeply underwater will be far less likely to get help, consumer advocates suggest. They're going to just have to wait for a visit from the Magic House Price Fairy.
Thing Six: Crumbling Infrastructure: US infrastructure is quickly and quietly falling further and further behind that of the rest of the world, Matt Sledge writes. Bridges may not be spectacularly collapsing all that much, yet, but productivity is suffering, and the country is being outspent and outclassed by nations around the world, including China and Russia.
Thing Seven: Stop Us Before We Trade Again! After largely ignoring the issue for years, the Senate snapped to yesterday and overwhelmingly approved a measure banning insider trading by members of Congress and other federal employees, for good measure. The House is expected to pass the bill, too. It's not that lawmakers suddenly had a crisis of conscience. It's more that a) they are less popular than corneal fissures and b) they are really terrible at insider trading, often losing money at it, The Wall Street Journal writes (subscription required).
Thing Seven and One Half: Poke With a Pig: Vermont prison inmates have responded to a poetic form of punishment with an equally poetic small act of rebellion. Prisoners on work detail in Vermont are tasked with painting the state-police logo on Vermont State Police cruisers, but some recently managed to insert tiny images of pigs into the logos on at least 30 of the cruisers, the Burlington Free Press reports. And the best part? The police aren't even all that mad about it. (h/t Gawker)