The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index, which had declined sharply last month, was flat in March. The index now stands at 88.3 (1985=100), virtually unchanged from 88.5 in February.

The present situation index rose to 84.1 from 83.3. The expectations index dipped slightly to 91 from 91.9.

“While consumers claimed business conditions were more favorable in March than last month, they also claimed jobs were less readily available,” said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board’s Consumer Research Center. “The labor market not only continues to dampen consumers’ present-day spirits, but it is also making them less optimistic about the short-term outlook.”

Consumers’ optimism about future conditions continues to wane. Those expecting business conditions to improve in the next six months dipped to 19.3 percent from 19.5 percent. Consumers expecting conditions to worsen was unchanged at 9.6 percent.

Consumers’ assessment of current conditions is more favorable today than last month. Those claiming business conditions improved increased to 20.7 percent from 19.3 percent. Those claiming conditions have worsened was almost unchanged at 23.3 percent.

Consumers claiming jobs are “hard to get” increased to 30 percent from 28.9 percent. But those saying jobs are “plentiful” rose slightly to 14.7 percent from 14.5 percent.

The six-month job outlook is mixed. Those anticipating more jobs to become available fell to 15.7 percent, down from 16.4 percent. Those expecting fewer jobs, however, declined to 17.3 percent from 18.8 percent. The proportion of consumers anticipating a decrease in their incomes rose to 10.1 percent today from 8.4 percent.

The consumer confidence survey, which is based on a representative sample of 5,000 U.S. households, is conducted for The Conference Board by NFO WorldGroup.

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