Intuit is seeing small businesses beginning to hire again, based on a survey of its online payroll customers.

According to the company’s newly created monthly Small Business Employment Index, nearly 150,000 new jobs have been created since June 2009, and 40,000 new jobs in February.

Although overall employment has declined since December 2007, employment rose 0.2 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis, continuing an upward trend that began around the middle of 2009. Employment grew nearly 0.8 percent over the past eight months, which is 1.1 percent at an annual rate.

However, compensation levels have remained flat since September 2008, with average monthly compensation in February of $2,559, down 0.1 percent from January.

The data is based on 50,000 small businesses using Intuit Online Payroll and its recently acquired PayCycle service. “February was a particularly strong month,” said economist Dr. Susan Woodward, founder of Sand Hill Econometrics in Palo Alto, Calif., who spent 10 years in Washington, D.C. as chief economist for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Securities and Exchange Commission, and now works with Intuit. “Small businesses seem more inclined to take advantage of a slack labor market than big businesses.” However, she acknowledged that many of Intuit’s customers are growing “a lot faster than the average small business.”

Intuit plans to release its Small Business Employment Index on a monthly basis, much as another payroll vendor, ADP, does. However, Intuit Payroll vice president Cameron Schmidt said that Intuit’s customer base generally represents smaller businesses than ADP’s. Intuit defines small businesses as those with 20 employees or less, while ADP defines them as 49 employees or less.

“Those companies that have fewer than 20 employees represent 90 percent of all U.S. employer firms,” said Schmidt.

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