CBIZ found a 0.44 percent decrease in its Small Business Employment Index in November, after posting an increase of 0.73 percent in October.

In September, the decrease in the index, which is based on CBIZ Payroll Services customers, was 1.02 percent.

“The under-300 employee subset of companies continues to be reticent about growing headcount,” said CBIZ Payroll Services business unit president Philip Noftsinger in a statement. “While recent announcements have shown hiring trends improving, they include larger employers, which could logically be the early beneficiaries of a recovery. Our index tracks the smaller employer, often dubbed our economy’s engine, and this month’s results continue to show no material change to employment dilemma.”

CBIZ, like ADP and Intuit before it, has begun publishing payroll numbers based on its own payroll customers since August. CBIZ and Intuit both focus on small businesses, while ADP’s numbers are based on small, midsized and large businesses. The three companies define “small business” differently. In CBIZ’s case, it corresponds to businesses that employ fewer than 300 people.

CBIZ found in its November survey that more companies are choosing to freeze hiring. Of the 3,093 companies included in the survey, 52.7 percent made no changes to their employee headcount, up modestly from the 50.6 percent that held steady in October. Anticipating potential changes in economic law, namely the Bush-era tax cuts, business owners are still wary of investing in skilled personnel until clarity is achieved.

The seasonal hires made for this current holiday season should provide a lift for the next index, according to CBIZ, but that may not offer a better overall employment picture for small business.

“Small businesses will likely continue to lag the country’s larger employers,” said Noftsinger. “Following last month’s ‘glimmer of hope,’ today’s small businesses still face tough circumstances that are related to insurance costs like liability and health, increasing energy costs and the well-documented quagmire surrounding our country’s tax picture. Given these ever-present obstacles, the outlook for the small business owner still remains a conundrum that demands clarity.”

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