Consumers gained confidence in March, the Conference Board said today. The latest reading is the highest it's been in six years. 

After clocking in at a revised 78.3 for February, the board's Consumer Confidence Index jumped 5.1% to 82.3 for March. It was the strongest reading since the index stood at 87.3 in January 2008, just as the Great Recession was beginning. Analysts were pleasantly surprised, having expected only an ever-so-slight increase to 78.4. The index uses 1985 as its 100-point benchmark.

"Consumer confidence improved in March, as expectations for the short-term outlook bounced back from February's decline," said Conference Board Director of Economic Indicators Lynn Franco in a statement today. "While consumers were moderately more upbeat about future job prospects and the overall economy, they were less optimistic about income growth. The Present Situation index, which had been on an upward trend for the past four months, was relatively unchanged in March. Overall, consumers expect the economy to continue improving and believe it may even pick up a little steam in the months ahead."

The index is comprised of responses from a random sample of consumers. In this latest report, 22.9% of respondents considered business conditions to be "good" (up 1.7 percentage points), but those who believe conditions to be bad also increased 1.2 points to 23.2%. Labor market confidence stayed steady from February, with 13.1% of those surveyed describing jobs as "plentiful" and 33% citing jobs as "hard to get." 

Looking ahead, 18.1% of respondents said they expect business conditions to improve over the next six months (up 0.8 points), compared to just 10.2% anticipating tougher times (down 3.4 points).

-- Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.