With Washington's job market heating up and seasonal hiring among retailers in full swing, some area employers are beginning to bump up...

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With Washington’s job market heating up and seasonal hiring among retailers in full swing, some area employers are beginning to bump up wages.

To draw quality employees to its stores on the Eastside, where competition from new retail outlets is intense, Fred Meyer has started some experienced new hires farther along the pay scale. It’s also reduced to one day the seasonal hiring process at hard-to-staff stores in Bellevue, Issaquah and Redmond.

“Things are the tightest they’ve been in several years,” said Keith Fuller, director of Fred Meyer’s recruiting office in Portland.

Driven by strong hiring in the Seattle area, job growth accelerated last month across the state.

On Tuesday, the Employment Security Department announced that payrolls statewide expanded by 23,800 workers last month, including the return to work of some 16,000 Boeing Machinists after a nearly monthlong strike.

Excluding the impact of the strike and a net gain of 1,383 employees at Boeing since September, employment levels expanded by 7,100 jobs — the biggest monthly gain since July.

As crowded as the job market is getting, however, the state’s chief labor economist says there is still plenty of slack left in the economy.

That’s because people have been entering the labor force at a faster pace — an average 6,875 a month the past year — than jobs are being created.

With more people looking for work, Washington’s jobless rate nudged only negligibly lower, to 5.6 percent in October compared with 5.7 percent in September.

In the past year, unemployment has fallen less than half of a percent.

The state is still below the peak labor-force participation rate of nearly 69 percent, when unemployment was below 5 percent, said Rick Kaglic, chief economist at the state Employment Security Department.

The labor-force participation rate is the percentage of eligible population over age 16 that is employed or looking for work. In October, it was 68.3 percent — the highest level in five years.

The bulk of job growth continues to be driven by businesses in the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett area. Smoothing over the impact of the Boeing strike, employment increased by 6,300 the past two months, accounting for 54 percent of gains statewide.

Since the statewide recession ended in April 2003, Seattle has recovered 71,200 of the 100,600 jobs it lost.

For the year, area employment is up 3.1 percent compared with 2.8 percent for the state and 2.4 percent nationwide.

“It’s been a long time coming, but Seattle is steadily making up the ground lost during the recession,” Kaglic said. “Solid job growth should continue for some time.”

That’s particularly true in the case of technology companies. Everyone from small startups, which have benefited from a triple-digit increase in venture capital, to IT giants Microsoft and T-Mobile have been on a hiring frenzy in recent months.

The increased competition is beginning to drive up wages, especially for midlevel and senior positions, recruiters say.

“The market is robust, to say the least,” says Jana Bergman, a recruiter at Comforce Technical Staffing in Redmond. “I’ve got 200 open orders right now, more than double the volume I had a year ago.”

For the state overall, October’s job gains were concentrated in manufacturing and aerospace, which has added 6,900 jobs in the past year.

Josh Goodman: 206-464-3347 or jgoodman@seattletimes.com