Online Extra: Stand and Be Counted

Women's work is never done--and rarely tabulated correctly

How many women-owned businesses are there? Depends who you ask. The U.S. Census Bureau says 5.4 million, while the National Foundation of Business Owners puts the number at 9.1 million, nearly twice the amount. But however you count them, women entrepreneurs are having more economic impact than ever.

According to the Census Bureau's 1997 Survey of Women-Owned Business Enterprises, the number of women-owned businesses grew 16% between 1992 and 1997 (the latest year for which data are available) compared to 6% for all businesses. Employment growth at women-owned firms was equally as impressive. The number of people employed by women-owned firms grew 28% over the same period, which is more than triple the rate for all other firms. And payroll at women-owned firms grew at almost twice the rate for all firms, 46% compared to 25%. All told, the Census found that women-owned companies made up 26% of the nation's 20.8 million nonfarm businesses, and 4.4% of the $18.6 trillion in receipts for all businesses.

Of course, women still have some catching up to do. About 70% of women-owned businesses had less than $25,000 in receipts, vs. 53% of all firms. And only 2% of women-owned firms had more than $1 million in receipts, compared with 5% for all businesses. That's probably because women-owned businesses tend to be smaller than other businesses. In fact, 85% of women-owned firms are sole proprietorships, according to the Census. Only about 7,400 companies had 100 or more employees.

According to the Census, one-third of women-owned companies are based in four states -- California, New York, Texas, and Florida. Yet woman entrepreneurs also post a strong showing in the District of Columbia, where they account for 31% of all businesses, and New Mexico, where they make up 29% of the state's total number of companies.

By Joan Raymond

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