Small businesses reported an uptick in new jobs in December over November, according to a monthly survey issued by the National Federation of Independent Business.

The average change in workers per firm increased to 0.03 from a negative 0.04 in November, a swing that NFIB chief economics William Dunkelberg characterized as “essentially zero.”

Job seekers stand in line to meet with prospective employers at a career fair in New York City in this file photo taken October 24, 2012. (MIKE SEGAR/REUTERS)

Eleven percent of surveyed owners added an average of 2.9 workers to their businesses over the past few months, while 13 percent reduced employment an average of 1.9 workers, seasonally adjusted. The remaining 76 percent of small business owners made no net change in employment.

Forty-one percent of small business owners hired or tried to hire in the past three months, and 33 percent of those trying to hire reported having difficulty finding qualified applications for open positions. Sixteen percent of all owners reported having a hard-to-fill job opening, down one percent since November.

Seasonally adjusted, a net 1 percent of small business owners planned to increase employment in the next few months, and not seasonally adjusted, seven percent of owners plan to increase employment at their firms — a four point decrease from last month.

However, fewer owners planned reductions over last month — 11 percent reported planning to reduce employment in December, down two points from November.

The decrease in job creation plans could reflect “frustration with Washington policy” and “economic uncertainty that peaked in December” during the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, Dunkelberg said in the report.

The NFIB has been a critic of President Obama’s small business policy. Its contributions and advertising budget have strongly supported Republicans and opposed Democrats, especially during the 2012 election cycle, according to research on from the Center for Responsive Politics.

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