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Wages are rising, but can they keep up with inflation?

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And an update to that gauge on Friday showed that wages climbed 0.4 percent in October, which is roughly in line with recent monthly price increases. Over the past year, that measure is up by 4.9 percent. But the data on hourly earnings have been distorted by the pandemic, because low-wage workers who left the job market early in 2020 are now trickling back in, jerking the average around.

The upshot is that the tug of war between price increases and pay increases has yet to decisively swing in workers’ favor.

Whether wage gains eventually eclipse inflation — and why — will be crucial for economic policymakers. Central bankers celebrate rising wages when they come from productivity increases and strong labor markets, but would worry if wages and inflation seemed to be egging each other upward.

The Federal Reserve is “watching carefully,” for a troubling increase in wages, its chair, Jerome H. Powell, said on Wednesday, though he noted that the central bank did not see such a trend shaping up.

Recruiters do report some early signs that inflation is factoring into pay decisions. Bill Kasko, president of Frontline Source Group, a job placement and staffing firm in Dallas, said that as gas prices in particular rise, employees are demanding either higher pay or work-from-home options to offset their increased commuting costs.

“It becomes a topic of discussion in negotiations for salary,” Mr. Kasko said.

But for the most part, today’s wage gains are tied to a different economic trend: red-hot demand for workers. Job openings are high, but many would-be employees remain on the labor market’s sidelines, either because they have chosen to retire early or because child care issues, virus concerns or other considerations have dissuaded them from working.

Grocery store managers in Dallas are earning as much as $175,000 in base pay compared to $125,000 before the pandemic, Mr. Kasko and his colleagues said, and employees are being nabbed away from firms like his for six-figure-salary recruiting jobs at corporations.

Emily Longsworth Nixon, 27 and from Dallas, is one of Mr. Kasko’s employees. She herself is fielding five or six messages each day on LinkedIn trying to lure her away, she said, and the tight labor market has upended how she does her job.

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