WASHINGTON ( TheStreet) -- The central banks' snapshot of the economy is not as fuzzy it's been. Based on the Federal Reserve's Beige Book of economic anecdotes, which looks at the economic conditions across its 12 districts, it appears as if the recession has slowed or stabilized in most areas of the country. The biggest improvements are being seen in the Northeast and Midwest, according to the survey. But the labor market still remains extremely soft, as wages and compensation were steady or falling in most areas, and retail activity stays stagnant. On the heels of the reports, stocks were down across the board, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average slipping 1% to 9,019.26 in afternoon trading and the S&P 500 off 1% to 969.19. Retailers also felt some pangs, with the S&P Retail Index dropping 0.5% to 347.78. --Reported by Jeanine Poggi in New York.