Paychecks aren't going up very much but health-care costs sure are

Personal income up 0.4% in March

If there are inflation winds in the air, it would be hard to tell by worker paychecks.

Employment compensation costs rose just 1.9 percent on an annualized basis in the first quarter, after a 0.6 percent gain for the three-month period, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics' employment cost index reading Friday. That's a sharp decline from the year-ago period, which showed a 2.6 percent gain, though the quarterly rise was in line with Wall Street expectations.

The drop in growth came from both salary and benefits, which rose 2 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively, for the 12-month period. That was against gains of 2.6 percent and 2.7 percent for the year-ago period.

And while wages, salaries and benefits were stuck in neutral, the index showed that employer costs for health care were on the rise, gaining 3.3 percent in the period compared to a 2.5 percent increase for the previous 12-month cycle.

The numbers are significant because Federal Reserve officials are looking for signs of inflation, particularly in wages, as a cue for when it would be appropriate to raise interest rates again. The Fed hiked its rate target in December but has held off since amid weak economic growth and little signs of positive inflation.