After a brief but torrid love affair in the 1990s, it seems as if Wall Street and Main Street have reverted to their historic, somewhat adversarial relationship. The re-emerging dichotomy will be back on display Friday, when the February employment report is released.

To hear market professionals tell it, these are prosperous days: Financial markets are strong worldwide, inflation is low, monetary and fiscal policies are highly accommodative, corporate profits are up, and securities industry hiring and bonuses are back. Save for maybe a little too much regulatory zest, there's very little Wall Street is fretting about these days.

Conversely, consumer confidence is down from its recent peak, personal bankruptcies and household debt are at or near record levels, and many Americans remain anxious about the labor market and geopolitical events. Outsourcing and technology-driven productivity gains may be great for corporate America's bottom line, but, near term, they're not necessarily so good for American workers.

"There is a disconnect going on," said Paul Kasriel, chief U.S. economist at Northern Trust. "In the 1990s, the stock market was going up and wages were higher. Now, the market is going up but hiring is barely visible and wages are not going up very rapidly." (Through January's employment report, wage growth was up only 1.6% in the past year.)

For February, the unemployment rate is expected to remain at 5.6%. More crucially, nonfarm payrolls are projected to rise by 125,000, which would be the sixth-consecutive month of growth and the strongest month in more than three years. However, it also would be shy of the level economists say is necessary to put the unemployed back on the job and keep pace with the growing workforce -- not to mention the Bush administration's prior forecast of average monthly gains of over 300,000 in 2004. (Side note: It's getting close to "put up or shut up" time for overly optimistic politicians and economists who've been promising for months now that robust jobs growth is imminent.)

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