NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana's labor market showed signs of strengthening in March as employer payrolls increased sharply and unemployment ticked down.

The jobless rate fell to 4.4 percent in March from 4.6 percent in February, as more people entered the labor force and more found jobs. Louisiana's unemployment rate was 5.6 percent a year ago.

About 95,000 Louisianans were jobless, the same as in February.

The separate employer payroll survey — many economists' top labor market indicator — rose by 7,000 to 1.99 million in Louisiana from February to March. That's the biggest gain in years, pushing payrolls about 12,000 above year-ago levels.

March's U.S. unemployment rate stayed at 4.1 percent for the third month, below last year's 4.5 percent.

The U.S. Labor Department released figures Friday, adjusted to cancel out seasonal changes.