WASHINGTON — The employment cost index used to track overall labor costs increased 0.6% in the first three months of 2011, while it was unchanged at a seasonally unadjusted 0.4% rate for the last quarter of 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.

The first-quarter ECI increase was predicted to be 0.5%, according to the median estimate of economists polled by Thomson Reuters.

The gain in costs for private sector workers was 0.5% in the first quarter of 2011, the same as in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Analysts said that employment cost increases began to pick up in 2009 as the economic recovery began, but have since stabilized.

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