The salaries of Washington area workers have gone up in the past four years, but the increases have been smaller and smaller each year, according to a survey released yesterday by the Human Resource Association of the National Capital Area.

The average salary for the association's "Key Jobs Index" -- a list of 43 jobs considered among the most common to many local employers such as receptionist, accounting clerk, network support specialists, accountants and editors -- increased by only 2.3 percent in 2003, down from 4.2 percent in 2002.

The association gathered data in April from 291 private and public companies and federal government agencies, which together employ more than 260,000 people -- about 9 percent of the region's workforce.

The salaries of Washington area government workers and contractors outperformed the index, growing an average of 4 percent in 2003, according to the survey.

In 2003, local employers also handed out fewer bonuses: 46 percent of companies and government agencies gave their workers financial incentive awards in 2003, down from 60 percent in 2002.

The survey's findings contradict other economic indicators that suggest local workers are gaining ground, said regional economist Stephen S. Fuller of George Mason University. So far this year, the region has added 70,000 new jobs. As a result, Fuller said he would not expect salary increases to be shrinking. "A 3.2 [regional] unemployment rate would suggest some wage leverage on the part of employees," Fuller said.

But not everyone is experiencing boom times, said Boni King, survey director. "The government contracting industry is growing at higher rate than all others . . . but not the meat and potatoes jobs," she said, referring to jobs such as data-entry operators, mail clerks and housekeepers. She added that the economy is on the upswing.

"Last year, employers were a little more hesitant. We are seeing that in financial incentives for employees. They're down for 2003. . . . Now the economy is coming back as the federal government is purchasing more goods and services in the community. Homeland security, intelligence services and the military all contribute to the improvement in the economy."