ByJohn S. McClenahen Despite a range of things for consumers to worry about, including the reality of higher gasoline prices and the prospect of higher interest rates, the Conference Board's closely watched Consumer Confidence Index rose this month after being flat in March. The index now stands at 92.9 (1985=100), up 4.4 percentage points from 88.5 in March. "The latest improvement in consumer confidence was sparked by a more favorable assessment of current business and labor market conditions and increased consumer optimism about the next six months," says Lynn Franco, director of the Consumer Research Center at the Conference Board, a New York-based business research group. Consumers saying that business conditions have improved rose to 21.4% in April, up from 20.7% a month earlier. Consumers claiming that jobs were hard to get fell to 27.6% in April, its lowest level since November 2002, from 29.9% in March. And consumer optimism about the next six months improved in April for the first time in 2004, with those anticipating business conditions would improve increasing to 20.5% from 19.5% in March. The index is based on a representative survey of 5,000 U.S. households conducted for the Conference Board by TNS NFO, a Greenwich, Conn.-based market research firm.