The job market ended last year on a high note with more than 312,000 reported jobs added for the final month of the year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported earlier this month, even while the overall unemployment rate rose to 3.9 percent.

The healthcare sector had a very strong year, having experienced the creation of more than 346,000 new jobs. Annually, that’s up from 284,000 jobs in 2017, a 22 percent rise year-over-year. Ambulatory centers added 219,000 jobs while hospitals added 107,000 jobs.

For December, healthcare ended the year with 50,000 new jobs, including 38,000 jobs in ambulatory services and 7,000 jobs in hospitals.

Healthcare job growth surpassed every other sector of the economy in 2018. BLS says it expects healthcare jobs will grow at 18 percent by 2026.

Healthcare is a major contributor to the economy, to say the least. Its workforce consists of more than 16 million people as of year’s end, accounting for 11 percent of all jobs in the overall economy.

According to the report, the jobs engine that healthcare is — to say nothing of the ancillary jobs that support the provision of care — created 1 in 7 new jobs in the United States in 2018. For comparison, healthcare job growth outpaced several other major sectors of the economy in 2018, including food services (261,000), construction (280,000), manufacturing (284,000) and retail sales (92,000). Only professional and business services outstripped healthcare job growth, creating 583,000 new jobs in the sector, BLS data show.

Healthcare’s growth continues at a "much faster than the average for all occupations, adding about 2.4 million new jobs," the BLS said. "This projected growth is mainly (because of) an aging population, leading to greater demand for healthcare services."

On the downside, hospital spending will grow about 5.5 percent each year, from $1.3 trillion in 2018 to $1.8 trillion in 2026, driven largely by those same demographics.

Elsewhere, total nonfarm employment increased by 2.6 million in 2018, compared with 2.2 million in 2017. In addition to the big job gains, wages jumped 3.2 percent from a year ago and 0.4 percent over the previous month. The year-over-year increase is tied with October for the best since April 2009. The average work week rose 0.1 hour to 34.5 hours.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been expecting job growth of about 176,000, but unemployment was expected to fall to 3.6 percent. The wage number also was well above expectations of 3 percent on the year and 0.3 percent from November.