WASHINGTON — A seasonally adjusted employment index used to track overall labor costs rose 0.4% for the three-month period ending in March, after increasing 0.5% during the fourth quarter of 2011, according to a report by the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics released Friday.

The 0.4% gain was lower than the median 0.5% increase projected by economists polled by Thomson Reuters.

The index measures the cost of wages and salaries, which make up about 70% of employment costs, as well as benefits, which make up the remaining 30%. Wages and salaries increased 0.5%, and benefit costs also rose 0.5%.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that when the gain or loss of the employment cost index is lower than those of its components, the rounding of numbers is the primary cause because it calculates the published percent changes based on the published rounded index numbers.

For the 12-month period ending in March, the index rose 1.9%.

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