Labor Day in the U.S. got its start in 1882 in New York as the “workingman’s holiday.” Today, of course, the holiday honors men and women, as women make up nearly half of the U.S. labor force. Here’s a look at some of the 75 million women whose work helps make the U.S. economy the largest and most productive in the world.
Two agents of the Secret Service, the agency tasked with protecting the president, prepare for duty. The first female agent was assigned to White House duty during the 1970s, and the number of women in the agency has slowly increased. Nationwide, 100,000 women serve in federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
A coal miner in Beckley, West Virginia, takes a break with co-workers. Mining is still among the most male-dominated fields worldwide. In the U.S., women represent 13 percent of the mining labor force. But a growing need for mining engineers provides a pipeline of good-paying jobs for women. At Colorado School of Mines, for example, women made up 31 percent of the undergraduate enrollment for fall 2015.
More than 200,000 women are in the active-duty U.S. military, including 60 generals and admirals. The Pentagon lifted the last restrictions on women’s combat roles in 2015, opening 255,000 positions to female service members.
A cardiologist in La Jolla, California, consults with her patient. Once excluded from the higher rungs of the health care industry, women now make up 36 percent of the physicians and surgeons in the U.S.
More women have been hired for waterfront jobs in recent years as more tasks have become mechanized. Workers typically are sent to the work site from the “dispatch hall” based on the amount of work needed for that day. This female dock worker in Los Angeles waits for a work assignment.
A teacher leads a preschool class in Chantilly, Virginia. When women started entering the workforce in large numbers, teaching and nursing were among the few careers open to them. Today, women still make up 80 percent of the teachers below the university level in the U.S.
Iris Sutton runs a catering business from her office in Seattle. Women own 36 percent of all U.S. businesses, according to the most recent census in 2012. That’s an increase of 30 percent from 2007. Forbes called 2016 the start of “a Golden Age for women entrepreneurs,” noting that women-run companies are entering the “middle market” (companies with revenues between $100 million and $3 billion) at a rate eight times higher than businesses in general.
Staff writer Mark Trainer contributed to this article.
A version of this story was published September 2, 2016.