ARLINGTON, VA - OCTOBER 4: Kimberly Espinosa of Odenton, MD, L, Yolanda Morrison of Manassass, VA, C, and Kanika Dhawan of Arlington, VA, wait in line to speak with a prospective employer at the Washington DC Career Fair at the Holiday Inn Rosslyn on Thursday, October 4, 2012, in Arlington, VA. About eight local and national employers and a resume review station set up to take applications and conduct interviews with DC-area job seekers. (Jahi Chikwendiu/WASHINGTON POST)

Hiring by small businesses last month improved for the first time since May, according to a monthly survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

October showed a net gain of 0.02 workers per firm, the report noted. That was a change from September, when average net employment fell by 0.23 workers, suggesting that more workers were let go rather than hired. The results were based on responses from 2,029 sampled NFIB members.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, 79 percent of small business owners surveyed said they made no net change in employment, 11 percent of owners reported adding an average of 2.7 workers over the past few months, and 10 percent said they reduced employment by an average of 2.9 workers.

When asked about their future plans, 4 percent of small business owners said they plan to increase employment, unchanged from September, the report said. Ten percent said they plan to increase employment at their firms, while 12 percent plan reductions.

The number of businesses with hard-to-fill job openings in October fell one point to 16 percent, down from 17 percent in September, suggesting that business owners were finding it slightly easier to fill the job openings they had.

Hiring plans were strong in the east south central region — including states like Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee, the report said.

“Overall, October job creation news is not the surprise that some may have been looking for,” chief economist for the NFIB William Dunkelberg said.

The NFIB has frequently critiqued President Obama’s policies facing small businesses, with the majority of its contributions and advertising budget supporting Republicans and opposing Democrats during the 2012 election cycle, according to research posted on by the Center for Responsive Politics.

A similar report from payroll provider ADP also showed sluggish small business hiring, with 50,000 small business jobs created this month, though last month showed 77,000 small business jobs added.

Despite the slight improvement in the small business hiring landscape, small business lending sank to its lowest level in more than a year in September, according to data from Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Lending Index.

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