The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index for the month of July retreated even more than it did in June, slipping to 50.4 from 54.3. The Present Situation Index fell, to 26.1 from 26.8, as did the Expectations Index, down to 66.6 from 72.7. An index score of 100 represents sentiments seen in 1985. Assessment of current conditions, especially with regard to the job market, by those polled brought in more negative results. Those saying that conditions are "bad" increased to 43.6% from 41%; however, 9% reported they think conditions are "good," up from 8.4%. The percentage of survey takers that claimed jobs are "hard to get" rose to 45.8% (up from 43.5%) while those saying "jobs are plentiful" remained constant at 4.3%. Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, attributes the drop in consumer confidence to a growing pessimism about the short-term outlook. In July, the percentage of consumers expecting an improvement in business conditions over the next six months decreased to 15.9% from 17.1%. Those anticipating that conditions of the economy will worsen over the same time period rose to 15.7% from 13.9%. "Concerns about business conditions and the labor market are casting a dark cloud over consumers that is not likely to lift until the job market improves," Franco said. The survey polls a population sample of 5,00 U.S. households and measures the degree of optimism they as consumers feel about the overall state of the economy and their personal financial situation. Write to Christine Ricciardi.