Optimism among small business owners fell in March, according to a survey by SurePayroll.

Small business owner optimized is now at 69 percent, a 2 percent drop since February 2011. Hiring is down 2.2 percent year-to-date at the smallest businesses, and down 1.5 percent since last March. While large businesses, midsized businesses and even larger small businesses may be seeing improvements in hiring, the smallest of businesses aren’t.

The SurePayroll Small Business Scorecard analyzes the payroll data of over 30,000 small businesses—most with 7 or fewer employees. At first glance, when simply looking at the month-over-month numbers, they look surprisingly good—hiring is up 1.8 percent in March over February. But when adjusted for the seasonality inherent in payroll (such as summer jobs or Christmas bonuses) the picture changes. Using a 12-month trailing average to analyze the data, hiring is down. There was less hiring in March 2011 than in March 2010.

For more information, visit SurePayroll’s Small Business Scorecard for March 2011 with national and regional data.