SurePayroll Inc., a provider of online payroll services to small businesses, has found that optimism among small business owners has fallen to 59 percent, after being as high as 72 percent in the prior month, amid concerns about health care reform and the government shutdown.

Month-over-month hiring was flat in September and the average paycheck was down 0.4 percent, according to the September 2013 edition of the SurePayroll Small Business Scorecard.

As health care reform begins, and in the midst of a government shutdown, 43 percent of the small business owners who were surveyed said understanding the impact of the Affordable Care Act alone would make them more confident in hiring again.

"The uncertainty caused by the government shutdown serves to further force small business owners to reconsider any long-term investments or hiring. On top of that, the only thing that's certain about health care reform right now is that it's causing more uncertainty," said SurePayroll CEO and president Michael Alter in a statement earlier this month. "In the meantime, small business owners are not likely to add more employees or pay their current employees more until they know exactly how the new health law will affect them."

While optimism dropped and hiring was flat, 46 percent of the small business owners surveyed by SurePayroll said they did better in the third quarter of 2013 than the third quarter of 2012, and 30 percent said results were the same. Fifty-eight percent said they matched expectations for the quarter; 13 percent said the quarter exceeded expectations; and 29 percent said results were below expectations.

Year over year, nationwide hiring is down 1.7 percent and paychecks are down 0.1 percent. Year over year, the South is the only region where hiring is up at 1.3 percent and paychecks there are up 0.7 percent. The West shows a hiring decline of 2.5 percent, with paychecks down 0.9 percent.

Hiring in the Midwest is down 3.0 percent and paychecks are positive, up 2.0 percent. In the Northeast, hiring is down 4.1 percent and paychecks are down 2.1 percent.

The full SurePayroll Small Business Scorecard infographic includes data for the top 35 metropolitan areas and is available on the SurePayroll blog.