By Dennis Cauchon, USA TODAY

The earnings gap between men and women has shrunk to a record low, partly because many women are prospering in the new economy and partly because men have been hit hard by the recession.

Women earned 82.8% of the median weekly wage of men in the second quarter of 2010, up from 76.1% for the same period a decade ago and the highest ever recorded, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

The Census Bureau on Thursday will release a more comprehensive look at earnings differences between men and women in 2009. But a USA TODAY analysis of current data shows dramatic changes are underway short-term and long-term.

“The good news is the wage gap is closing. The bad news is the reason,” says economist Robert Drago, research director at the Institute forWomen’s Policy Research.

Men have been losing jobs at a faster rate than women in the recession because of troubles in manufacturing, construction and other industries, he says. By contrast, job loss has been slow in government and health care, which tend to employ more women.

The wage gap between men and women narrowed significantly in the 1980s and 1990s before flattening during this decade – until the recession hit in December 2007.

The wage gap stopped shrinking early in the decade because women were entering the workforce in large numbers, earning lower pay as relative newcomers. But women – who now make up 49.7% of the workforce – have outpaced men in the last 10 years in nearly every category.

How women are doing:

• Race. Women outperformed men in every race and ethnic group. For example, the median weekly wage for black women rose 8.8% from 2000 to 2009 after adjusting for inflation, while wages for black men fell 2.4%.

Age. No matter the age, women did better. For example, women 35 to 44 saw weekly wages rise 11.5% after inflation from 2000 to 2009 vs. a 1.2% increase for men. Despite the gains, women of that age still earn about $200 less per week than the typical man.

• Occupation. Women have been moving swiftly into high-paying professional jobs such as accountants, lawyers and physicians. At the same time, men have been moving just as fast into relatively low-paying jobs – bank tellers, switchboard operators, librarians – long dominated by women. In 2000, there were six female librarians for every one male. Nine years later, there were four women for every male.

Women have held their own or increased dominance in the skilled health care trades – nurses, physical therapists, lab technicians – that are growing professions. Nine of every 10 nurses are women – same as a decade ago.

Men have increased dominance in the industrial and construction trades, such as sheet metal workers, printing press operators and roofers, but those jobs are declining in numbers. The computer business – programmers, operators, hardware engineers – is the only part of the modern economy in which men outperformed women in the last decade.

“It’s not good news for women to have men making poor economic progress,” says Carrie Lukas, vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women’s Forum. “This isn’t a gender war. If men lose, that doesn’t mean that women win.”