U.S. employment costs in the fourth quarter grew at a slower pace than in the previous quarter, but for all of last year they grew at the same rate as in 2000, the government said on Thursday.

The Labor Department said its Employment Cost Index (ECI), a broad gauge of what employers pay in wages, salaries and benefits, rose 0.9 percent during the last three months of 2001. That was slightly lower than the 1.0 percent increase in the third quarter and below the expectations of Wall Street economists in a Reuters poll.

For all of last year, employment costs rose 4.1 percent, the same increase recorded a year before.

During the fourth quarter, wages and salaries grew by the same 0.8 percent pace seen in the previous quarter, but benefit costs grew by 1.2 percent, down from 1.6 percent in the third quarter.