U.S. consumer confidence soared in May to its highest level in eight months as severe strains in the labor market showed some signs of easing, though Americans' mood remained depressed by historical standards.

The Conference Board, an industry group, said its index of consumer attitudes jumped to 54.9 in May from a revised 40.8 in April, the biggest one-month jump since April 2003.

The consensus forecast was for the index to rise to 42.

Fewer Americans said jobs were hard to get, the survey found, with that measure slipping to 44.7 percent from 46.6 percent. Those saying jobs were plentiful climbed to a still meager 5.7 percent, but that was still higher than March's 4.9 percent.

Consumers are considerably less pessimistic than they were earlier this year, said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board's Consumer Research Center.

(Reporting by Pedro Nicolaci da Costa, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)