Half of American workers are women -- but they don't earn half of all income

The recession has led to many transformations in the employment landscape. One is that women now hold half of all the jobs in the U.S., according to statistics from the federal government. The Wall Street Journalreports that women make up 49.9% of the work force, up from 48.7% in December 2007. In 1970, women held only 35% of all jobs.

Lots of forces are behind this trend. Some women are taking jobs because their spouses earn less money due to the tight economy or because their spouses have lost their jobs. Households under pressure from debt burdens need more income, so many single-income families are becoming two-income families. And layoffs seem to be hitting men disproportionately in this slump.

The statistics also suggest that businesses may be taking advantage of the recession to replace more expensive male workers with less-expensive women with similar skills. The average male employee in the U.S. made over $46,000 in 2008. The average woman made less than $36,000.

Whether this is entirely legal under antidiscrimination laws is hard to parse, but it has two effects. The first is that some corporations can improve margins by turning to female workers. Their higher profits should help the economy and the national tax base.

The bad news is that women's lower salaries will almost certainly have a negative effect on consumer spending. The $10,000 difference between the pay of men and women could make a big difference in the ability of a household to buy goods and services. It will also probably make it harder for the retail sector to rebound, even as the holidays approach.

Some women have dreamed of the day when they would have equal representation in the work force. Unfortunately, now that they have it, they're getting paid less than men and laboring harder during the worst recession in decades.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.

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