Merit raises ballooned to 9.1% in inflation-ridden 1982.Now they're down and still falling.

Jittery about the economy, employers are cutting the average merit increase for salaried workers to just 6.1% this year, down from 6.4% in 1985 and 6.6% in 1984. Merit increases include cost-of-living adjustments plus performance raises, but exclude bonuses. The 1986 projections are based on a survey by Sibson & Co., a Princeton, N.J.-based compensation firm.

Many employers in finance, insurance, and technology may be more generous because of competition for skilled workers. And companies in a variety of industries plan to spice their compensation packages with bonuses or other forms of variable compensation -- but total increases should still be down from prior years.