Washington — U.S. workers' wages and benefits rose by a brisk 1.3 percent in the first three months of 2003, the biggest increase in nearly 13 years, even as businesses struggled with the economy.
The increase in the employment cost index for the January to March quarter was nearly twice as big as the 0.7 rise posted in the fourth quarter of 2002, the Labor Department reported Tuesday.
The 1.3 percent rise registered in the first quarter was the largest increase since the second quarter of 1990, when compensation went up by the same amount. The costs of benefits continued to outpace wage gains.
Benefit costs rose by 2.2 percent in the first quarter of 2003, after a 1.3 percent advance in the prior quarter. The increase in benefit costs in the first quarter was the largest in 15 years. Wages and salaries rose by a solid 1 percent in the first quarter, twice as fast as the 0.5 percent increase recorded in the fourth quarter.