Slower than average job growth is expected as firms increasingly
employ workers to perform more specialized tasks with titles
that reflect the specific duties of the job rather than the
general title of economist.
Job seekers with a background in economics should have good
opportunities, although some of these opportunities will be
in related occupations.
Candidates who hold a masterís or Ph.D. degree in economics
will have the best employment prospects and advancement opportunities.
Quantitative skills are important in all economics specialties.
Nature of the Work
Economists study how society distributes scarce resources,
such as land, labor, raw materials, and machinery, to produce
goods and services. They conduct research, collect and analyze
data, monitor economic trends, and develop forecasts. They research
issues such as energy costs, inflation, interest rates, exchange
rates, business cycles, taxes, or employment levels.
Economists devise methods and procedures for obtaining the data
they need. For example, sampling techniques may be used to conduct
a survey, and various mathematical modeling techniques may be
used to develop forecasts. Preparing reports, including tables
and charts, on research results is an important part of an economistís
job. Presenting economic and statistical concepts in a clear and
meaningful way is particularly important for economists whose
research is directed toward making policies for an organization.
Some economists also might perform economic analysis for the media.
Many economists specialize in a particular area of economics,
although general knowledge of basic economic principles is useful
in each area. Microeconomists study the supply and demand
decisions of individuals and firms, such as how profits can be
maximized and how much of a good or service consumers will demand
at a certain price. Industrialeconomists or
organizational economists study the market structure of particular
industries in terms of the number of competitors within those
industries and examine the market decisions of competitive firms
and monopolies. These economists also may be concerned with antitrust
policy and its impact on market structure. Macroeconomists
study historical trends in the whole economy and forecast future
trends in areas such as unemployment, inflation, economic growth,
productivity, and investment. Closely related to macroeconomists
are monetaryeconomists or financial economists,
who study the money and banking system and the effects of changing
interest rates. International economists study international
financial markets, exchange rates, and the effects of various
trade policies such as tariffs. Labor economists or
demographic economists study the supply and demand for labor
and the determination of wages. These economists also try to explain
the reasons for unemployment and the effects of changing demographic
trends, such as an aging population and increasing immigration,
on labor markets. Public finance economists are involved
primarily in studying the role of the government in the economy
and the effects of tax cuts, budget deficits, and welfare policies.
Econometricians investigate all areas of economics and
use mathematical techniques such as calculus, game theory, and
regression analysis to formulate economic models that help to
explain economic relationships and that are used to develop forecasts
related to the nature and length of business cycles, the effects
of a specific rate of inflation on the economy, the effects of
tax legislation on unemployment levels, and other economic phenomena.
Many economists have applied these fundamental areas of economics
to specific applications such as health, education, agriculture,
urban and regional economics, law, history, energy, and the environment.
Most economists are concerned with practical applications of
economic policy and work for a variety of organizations. Economists
working for corporations are involved primarily in microeconomic
issues, such as forecasting consumer demand and sales of the firmís
products. Some analyze their competitorsí growth and market share
and advise their company on how to handle the competition. Others
monitor legislation passed by Congress, such as environmental
and worker safety regulations, and assess its impact on their
business. Corporations with many international branches or subsidiaries
might employ economists to monitor the economic situations in
countries where they do business or to provide a risk assessment
of a country into which the company might expand.
Economists working in economic consulting or research firms may
perform the same tasks as economists working for corporations.
Economists in consulting firms also perform much of the macroeconomic
analysis and forecasting that is conducted in the United States.
These economists collect data on various indicators, maintain
databases, analyze historical trends, and develop models to forecast
growth, inflation, unemployment, or interest rates. Their analyses
and forecasts are frequently published in newspapers and journal
Another large employer of economists is the government. Economists
in the Federal Government administer most of the surveys and collect
the majority of the economic data characterizing the United States.
For example, economists in the U.S. Department of Commerce collect
and analyze data on the production, distribution, and consumption
of commodities produced in the United States and overseas, while
economists employed by the U.S. Department of Labor collect and
analyze data on the domestic economy, including data on prices,
wages, employment, productivity, and safety and health. Economists
who work for government agencies also assess economic conditions
in the United States or abroad in order to estimate the economic
effects of specific changes in legislation or public policy. Government
economists advise policy makers in areas such as telecommunications
deregulation, Social Security revamping, the effects of tax cuts
on the budget deficit, and the effectiveness of imposing tariffs
on imported steel. An economist working in State or local government
might analyze data on the growth of school-age or prison populations,
and on employment and unemployment rates, in order to project
future spending needs.
Economists have structured work schedules. They often work alone,
writing reports, preparing statistical charts, and using computers,
but they also may be an integral part of a research team. Most
work under pressure of deadlines and tight schedules, which may
require overtime. Their routine may be interrupted by special
requests for data and by the need to attend meetings or conferences.
Frequent travel may be necessary.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
A masterís or Ph.D. degree in economics is required for many
private-sector economist jobs and for advancement to more responsible
positions. Economics includes numerous specialties at the graduate
level, such as advanced economic theory, econometrics, international
economics, and labor economics. Students should select graduate
schools that are strong in specialties in which they are interested.
Undergraduate economics majors can choose from a variety of courses,
ranging from microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics
to more philosophical courses, such as the history of economic
thought. Because of the importance of quantitative skills to economists,
courses in mathematics, statistics, econometrics, sampling theory
and survey design, and computer science are extremely helpful.
Some schools help graduate students find internships or part-time
employment in government agencies, economic consulting or research
firms, or financial institutions prior to graduation.
In the Federal Government, candidates for entry-level economist
positions must have a bachelorís degree with a minimum of 21 semester
hours of economics and 3 hours of statistics, accounting, or calculus.
Whether working in government, industry, research organizations,
or consulting firms, economists with a bachelorís degree usually
qualify for most entry-level positions as a research assistant,
for administrative or management trainee positions, or for various
sales jobs. A masterís degree usually is required to qualify for
more responsible research and administrative positions. Many businesses,
research and consulting firms, and government agencies seek individuals
who have strong computer and quantitative skills and can perform
complex research. A Ph.D. is necessary for top economist positions
in many organizations. Many corporation and government executives
have a strong background in economics.
A masterís degree usually is the minimum requirement for a job
as an instructor in a junior or community college. In most colleges
and universities, however, a Ph.D. is necessary for appointment
as an instructor. A Ph.D. and extensive publications in academic
journals are required for a professorship, tenure, and promotion.
Aspiring economists should gain experience gathering and analyzing
data, conducting interviews or surveys, and writing reports on
their findings while in college. This experience can prove invaluable
later in obtaining a full-time position in the field, because
much of the economistís work, especially in the beginning, may
center on these duties. With experience, economists eventually
are assigned their own research projects. Related job experience,
such as work as a stock or bond trader, might be advantageous.
Those considering careers as economists should be able to pay
attention to details, because much time is spent on precise data
analysis. Patience and persistence are necessary qualities, given
that economists must spend long hours on independent study and
problem solving. Good communication skills also are useful, as
economists must be able to present their findings, both orally
and in writing, in a clear, concise manner.
Economists held about 13,000 jobs in 2004. Government employed
58 percent of economists, in a wide range of government agencies,
with 34 percent in Federal government and 24 percent in State
and local government. The U.S. Departments of Labor, Agriculture,
and State are the largest Federal employers of economists. The
remaining jobs were spread throughout private industry, particularly
in scientific research and development services and management,
scientific, and technical consulting services. A number of economists
combine a full-time job in government, academia, or business with
part-time or consulting work in another setting.
Employment of economists is concentrated in large cities. Some
work abroad for companies with major international operations,
for U.S. Government agencies, and for international organizations,
such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and United
In addition to the previously mentioned jobs, economists hold
faculty positions in colleges and universities. Economics faculties
have flexible work schedules and may divide their time among teaching,
research, consulting, and administration. (See the statement on
elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Employment of economists is expected to grow more slowly than
average for all occupations through 2014. Employment growth should
be the fastest in private industry, especially in management,
scientific, and technical consulting services. Rising demand for
economic analysis in virtually every industry should stem from
the growing complexity of the global economy, the effects of competition
on businesses, and increased reliance on quantitative methods
for analyzing and forecasting business, sales, and other economic
trends. Some corporations choose to hire economic consultants
to fill these needs, rather than keeping an economist on staff.
This practice should result in more economists being employed
in consulting services. However, job growth will be limited as
firms increasingly employ workers to perform more specialized
tasks with titles that reflect the specific duties of the job
instead of the general title of economist. In addition, few new
jobs are expected in government, but the need to replace experienced
workers who transfer to other occupations or who retire or leave
the labor force for other reasons will lead to job openings for
economists across all industries in which they are employed.
Individuals with a background in economics should have job opportunities,
although some of these opportunities will be in related occupations.
As firms increasingly employ workers to perform more specialized
tasks, the best opportunities for individuals with backgrounds
in economics are expected to be in positions that have titles
other than economist. Some examples of job titles often held by
those with an economics background are financial analyst, market
analyst, public policy consultant, researcher or research assistant,
A masterís or Ph.D. degree, coupled with a strong background
in economic theory, mathematics, statistics, and econometrics,
provides the basis for acquiring any specialty within the economics
field. Economists who are skilled in quantitative techniques and
their application to economic modeling and forecasting, and who
also have good communications skills, should have the best job
opportunities. Like those in many other disciplines, however,
Ph.D. holders are likely to face keen competition for tenured
teaching positions in colleges and universities.
Bachelorís degree holders may face competition for the limited
number of economist positions for which they qualify. However,
they will qualify for a number of other positions in which they
can take advantage of their economic knowledge by conducting research,
developing surveys, or analyzing data. Many graduates with bachelorís
degrees will find jobs in industry and business as management
or sales trainees or as administrative assistants. Bachelorís
degree holders with good quantitative skills and a strong background
in mathematics, statistics, survey design, and computer science
also may be hired by private firms as researchers. Some will find
jobs in government.
Candidates who meet State certification requirements may become
high school economics teachers. The demand for secondary school
economics teachers is expected to grow, as economics becomes an
increasingly important and popular course. (See the statement
on teachersópreschool, kindergarten, elementary,
middle, and secondary elsewhere for teachers.)
Median annual wage and salary earnings of economists were $72,780
in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $53,650 and
$96,240. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $41,040, and the
highest 10 percent earned more than $129,170.
The Federal Government recognizes education and experience in
certifying applicants for entry-level positions. The starting
salary for economists having a bachelorís degree was about $24,667
a year in 2005; however, those with superior academic records
could begin at $30,567. Those having a masterís degree could qualify
for positions at an annual salary of $37,390. Those with a Ph.D.
could begin at $45,239, while some individuals with experience
and an advanced degree could start at $54,221. Starting salaries
were slightly higher in selected geographical areas where the
prevailing local pay was higher. The average annual salary for
economists employed by the Federal Government was $89,441 a year
Economists are concerned with understanding and interpreting
financial matters, among other subjects. Other occupations in
this area include accountants and auditors; actuaries; budget
analysts; financial analysts and personal financial advisors;
financial managers; insurance underwriters; loan officers; and
purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents. Other occupations
involved in market research and data collection are management
analysts and market and survey researchers.
Sources of Additional Information
For information on careers in business economics, contact:
National Association for Business Economics, 1233 20th St.
NW., Suite 505, Washington, DC 20036.
Information on obtaining positions as economists with the Federal
Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management
through USAJOBS, the Federal Governmentís official employment
information system. This resource for locating and applying for
job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at http://www.usajobs.opm.gov/ or through an interactive
voice response telephone system at (703) 724-1850 or TDD (978)
461-8404. These numbers are not tollfree, and charges may result.
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,