The mood of the nation's small-business owners improved last month, though remained at recession levels, the National Federation of Independent Business reported this week.

Based on a survey of over 800 business owners nationwide, the Washington-based lobby group's monthly small-business optimism index rose 2.9 points in August to 91.1, below its benchmark level of 100 and continuing the longest slump since the survey was launched in 1973.

More owners last month said they expected higher sales and better earnings over the next six months, the survey found. That's also prompting them to create more jobs  and boost spending.

At the same time, 39 percent of owners surveyed reported raising prices, while 18 percent cited inflation  as a top business concern.

"The direction of change was nicely positive," William Dunkelberg, the group's chief economist, said in a statement. "But we have a long way to go."