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Wage Measures Send Mixed Signals

Wall Street Journal (07/05/15) Jeffrey Sparshott

While the latest sets of wage data were disappointing for American workers, several other measures of earnings are indicating more optimistic tendencies. Average hourly earnings, the best-known measure of workers’ pay, increased a mere 2% over the past year, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Labor, suggesting the labor market is not quite tight enough to generate big pay gains. The employment cost index (ECI), the preferred measure of wages for economists, shows a rise of 2.6% in labor costs in the first quarter. Since the ECI controls for compositional shifts in the labor force, it allows for relatively pure comparisons of different time periods.

Sending the most upbeat message is the employer costs for employee compensation (ECEC), which is based on the same survey as ECI and is also a measure of wages and benefits. ECEC jumped 4.9% from a year earlier in the first quarter; however, it does not adjust for labor-force composition, and as such could be skewed by a spike in the hiring of high-paid workers.