Despite the gloomy economy, small businesses in the United States have grown the ranks of their employees and contractors by 1.9 percent this year on average. They grew by 0.2 percent in August 2009.

That's according to our latest SurePayroll Small Business Scorecard, which tracks hiring, salary, and other trends based on aggregated and anonymous payroll data for over 25,000 U.S. small businesses.

The legacy of this economy will be that while many small businesses have failed or suffered, a substantial number have done just fine -- and that's kept the overall small-business economy in decent shape.

Adding support to the idea that things are looking up, we saw a strong rebound in owner optimism in August. The percentage of small-business owners who were optimistic shot back to 71 percent, from a surprising low of 56 percent recorded in July.

Other noteworthy trends from the Scorecard are that small business labor costs dropped in August and that small businesses appear to be becoming more reliant on independent contractors. With respect to labor costs, we saw that small business salaries fell 0.9 percent in August. Salaries are down 6.0 percent year-to-date. That's good news for business owners -- but bad news for the unemployed who may be knocking on small business doors looking for a job.

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