Survey: Small business hiring edges up, still weak

NEW YORK (AP) — Small businesses increased their pace of hiring slightly last month but most companies still don't plan to add jobs, according to a survey released Thursday.

The National Federation of Independent Business said employment at small businesses rose by 0.1 workers per company in February, following a gain of 0.09 workers in January. The NFIB, a small business lobbying group, questioned 870 of its members in the survey. A vast majority of the business owners surveyed — 78 percent — made no changes in their payrolls last month.

And most owners still aren't motivated to take on more workers. The percentage of owners who plan to hire rose 1 percentage point to just 4 percent.

Small business owners have held off hiring, borrowing and expanding amid continuing uncertainty about the economy, the costs of health care and the political climate in Washington.

Employment is still below its 2008 levels, before the financial market collapse, NFIB Chief Economist William Dunkelberg said.

"A continued rebound in the labor intensive housing industry will certainly help a lot," he said.

The survey was in line with other reports that small businesses were hiring cautiously last month. Payroll company ADP and software maker Intuit both said companies hired fewer workers in February than they did in January. On Friday the Labor Department releases its monthly report on employment. Small businesses account for 99.9 percent of U.S. companies and about half the nation's employment, so the government report will provide more evidence about owners' willingness to hire.

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