The average paycheck size grew 0.1 percent in December, according to payroll processor SurePayroll, although month-over-month hiring dipped 0.1 percent.

Small business owners' optimism dropped to 55 percent, down 5 points from last month, according to SurePayroll’s monthly Small Business Scorecard. In light of the fiscal cliff vote, small businesses are relieved in the short term, but remain concerned about the future.

“Small businesses had been asked to play a game where they didn’t know the rules in 2012,” said SurePayroll CEO and president Michael Alter, referring to uncertainty over government action. “That being the case, they’d rather just not play. That’s likely why we’ve seen a drag on hiring throughout the year. On the bright side, they’ve been innovative and creative. Our customers tell us they’ve been using new services to outsource nonessential work and technology to increase productivity, as well as focusing on their most profitable customers.” 

Hiring was down month over month in every region of the country except for the South, where it was up 0.3 percent, SurePayroll found from its own small business clients’ payroll data. Paychecks were up month over month in the Midwest (0.2 percent) and West (0.2 percent), and down or flat across the rest of the country.

Year over year, nationwide hiring is down only 1.3 percent and paychecks are down 1.0 percent, according to SurePayroll data from 40,000 small businesses. Year over year, the South is the only region where hiring was up at 1.7 percent and paychecks there were down 0.5 percent. The West shows a hiring decline at 4.8 percent, with paychecks down 0.4 percent. Hiring in the Midwest is down 1.9 percent and paychecks are positive, up 1.8 percent. In the Northeast, hiring is down 1.9 percent and paychecks are down 4.4 percent.