Worker wage gains just broke 3% for the first time in more than 10 years

  • Wages and salaries for American workers rose 3.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to the government's Employment Cost Index.
  • That's the biggest gain since the third quarter of 2008, just as the worst of the financial crisis hit.
  • Fed officials watch the index closely for signs of wage inflation pressures.
A trader shows U.S. dollar notes at a currency exchange booth. 
Akhtar Soomro | Reuters
A trader shows U.S. dollar notes at a currency exchange booth. 

Wages and salaries for American workers rose more than 3 percent over the past year, the first time that threshold has been broken in more than 10 years, according to a Labor Department report Thursday.

The employment cost index, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases quarterly, showed a 3.1 percent gain in the wages and salaries component in the fourth quarter of 2018. That's up from 2.9 percent in the third quarter and tied for the biggest gain since the third quarter of 2008, just as worst of the financial crisis hit.

Overall, the employment cost index, which also includes benefits costs, rose 2.9 percent for the quarter, which also tied the highest level since the third quarter of 2008.

A release earlier this month from the BLS showed that real average hourly earnings, which take into account inflation, rose 1.1 percent for the year in 2018. Average weekly earnings climbed 1.2 percent.

Federal Reserve policymakers watch the employment cost index carefully for inflation pressures. A statement released Wednesday after this week's Federal Open Market Committee meeting indicated that "market-based measures of inflation compensation have moved lower in recent months" though "survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations are little changed."

The monetary policymaking committee voted not to increase the Fed's benchmark interest rate and said it would take a "patient" approach to future increases.

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