Is Wage Growth Breaking Out?

First-quarter data show that U.S. wages and salaries are beginning to rise after years of stagnation.
Katie Kuehner-HebertApril 30, 2015
Is Wage Growth Breaking Out?

Compensation costs for civilian workers, as measured by the Employment Cost Index, increased 0.7% in the first three months of 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Thursday. It was the largest gain since the third quarter of 2014.

Wages and salaries, which make up about 70% of compensation costs, rose 0.7%, and benefits, which make up the remaining 30%, increased 0.6%.

A Reuters story said economists polled by the news service had forecast the employment cost index rising 0.6% for the January-March period.

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In the 12 months through March, compensation costs rose 2.6%, higher than the 1.8% increase for the 12-month period ending March 2014, according to the Labor Department. Wages and salaries increased 2.6% during that time period, higher than the 1.6% increase for March 2014, and benefit costs rose 2.7%, compared with a 2.1% increase for the year before.

Reuters said that labor cost increases for the past 12 months represent the largest rise since the fourth quarter of 2008,. However, it’s “still below the 3% threshold that economists say is needed to bring inflation closer to the Fed’s 2% target.”

Compensation costs for private industry workers rose 2.8% over the year, higher than the March 2014 increase of 1.7%. The wage and salary component rose 2.8% and the cost of benefits component rose 2.6%.

Among occupational groups, compensation cost increases for private industry workers for the 12-month period ending March ranged from 2.3% for natural resources, construction, maintenance occupations, and service occupations, to 3.4% for sales and office occupations.