NEW YORK (AP) -- Sales and profits picked up for companies at the end of last year, and more say they're paying their workers higher wages and salaries in the latest signs that the U.S. economy continues to improve.
The encouraging signals come from the latest survey the National Association for Business Economics did of more than 100 members at companies and industry groups. The survey by the NABE, a professional association for business economists, academics and others who use economics in the workplace, was released Monday.
After years of recovery following the Great Recession, the job market and the economy have become so healthy that businesses say finding skilled workers is the most difficult it has been in nearly a decade.
The responses fit with recent government reports that show the economy grew at a 2.6 percent annual rate in the last three months of 2017 and the unemployment rate is at a 17-year low. Last quarter's growth was slower than the summer's pace, but economists nevertheless called it solid, and it was the 15th straight quarter that the economy has expanded.
In the survey, 47 percent of respondents said their sales rose over the past three months, up a tick from 46 percent three months earlier. Fewer companies said their sales were falling.
Finding skilled workers, meanwhile, has been getting more difficult as the economy heats up. The highest percentage of respondents, 39 percent, said they were facing shortages in skilled labor since July 2008.
Perhaps as a result of that, companies are paying their workers more. Nearly half of the surveys' respondents said that their wages and salaries rose over the past three months. None, meanwhile, said that they cut pay for workers. That difference of 48 percentage points is the strongest reading for the survey since January 2000 and is the third-highest since the survey began in 1982.
The optimism among businesses is tempered, though. Roughly half of the survey's respondents, 51 percent, said they expect sales to increase over the next three months. That's down from 61 percent three months earlier, and it's the lowest level since July 2016.