The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index remained basically unchanged in December, drifting down 0.4 point to 104.4, according to the report released Tuesday.

Unfilled jobs and the lack of qualified applicants continue to be a primary driver, with job openings setting a record high and job creation plans strengthening.

State-specific data is unavailable, but NFIB State Director Brad Jones said, “Getting good applicants has been a real challenge for a lot of our members.”

Reports of higher worker compensation remained near record levels and inventory investment plans surged. Expected real sales growth and expected business conditions in the next six months, however, accounted for the modest decline in the Index. 

“Optimism among small business owners continues to push record highs, but they need workers to generate more sales, provide services, and complete projects, said NFIB President and CEO Juanita D. Duggan.