The cost of employing the average U.S. worker climbed 0.7% in the first quarter, according to a closely watched gauge. The employment cost index rose after a 0.5% increase in the fourth quarter. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected a 0.6% gain. Over the past 12 months, employment costs have climbed 2.6%, the fastest rise since the fourth quarter of 2008. The ECI reflects how much companies, governments and nonprofit institutions pay their employees in wages and benefits. Wages - some 70% of employment costs - rose 0.7% in the first quarter. Benefits rose 0.6%.
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