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Economics Careers, Jobs and Degree Information

Economics Career Overview

Economics favors quantitative skills and critical thinkers. The employment rate for economists is projected to grow at the rate of the current average, with the largest area of growth being private industry, especially in the areas of consulting and economic research. A master’s degree or Doctor of Philosophy degree is recommended for prospective economists to be competitive.

Basically what economists do is analyze how people create goods and services by allocating limited resources like raw materials, land, technology, and labor. They do this by researching and monitoring things like exchange rates, business trends, taxation, employment rates, inflation, and costs of materials. They then try to find trends and develop predictions based on the data.

Economists use many different methods for collecting that data. They might survey random samples or use math and statistical models. Economists not only need to collect data, but communicate it in an effective manner so companies can make informed decisions for so the media can communicate it to the world at large. For this reason economists spend a lot of their time making reports like charts or graphs.

Economists take the theories and trends they find and apply them to benefit many different organizations and industries. Many corporations require the skills of microeconomists, like projecting customer demand or product sales, both of the client firm and their competitors to maximize profit. These economists also review new legislation, like minimum wage requirements or tariffs, and how it will affect their client. Large business with many smaller branches might also have economists assess the economy of countries where branches exists or where they are looking to open new branches. Smaller businesses often hire economists as consultants or those who work in research firms. Consulting firms in the United States provide a large proportion of the macroeconomic study and prediction by gathering many different statistics, compiling large databases, finding trends. These firms often publish their findings.

The federal government also employs a large percentage of economists. They generally conduct surveys and gather data. For example, the Department of Labor studies salaries, industry growth, employment rates, and safety issues. The Department of Commerce looks at the manufacture, allotment, and use of goods and services both domestic and international. Employees of the government also use economic data to forecast the consequences of new legislation or policies, such as Social Security, tax increases or cuts, increasing the budget deficit, trade regulations, or communications.

Types of Economists

Though all economists need to be familiar with general principles, most economists specialize. The skills and knowledge gained in each of these areas are often applied to other fields like agriculture, medicine, education, law, energy, and environmental protection.

  • Microeconomists: These people study individual companies or people. They look at supply and demand to find out how to maximize production, for example, or to project how high the demand for a particular product would be.
  • Macroeconomists: They look at the economy as a whole to find long-term, overarching trends throughout history. They can then make generalizations and draw conclusions about investment productivity, inflation, unemployment, etc.
  • Financial Economists: strongly correlated to macroeconomists, financial economists study interest rates to see their effect on banking systems.
  • International Economists: They look at markets internationally, studying currency exchange and the effects of tariffs and trade procedures and laws.
  • Organizational or Industrial Economists: They examine the markets of individual industries, studying competitors and making predictions based on the decisions of competitors. They may also be involved in protecting the industry against trusts and monopolies
  • Demographic or Labor Economists: They look at trends in salary, such as how it’s determined, and the need for labor. They are especially interested in causes of unemployment and the results of changes in demographic, such as a baby boom, on labor.
  • Public Finance Economists: They look at the government’s involvement in the economy, such as taxation, deficits or surpluses in budget, or policies concerning welfare.
  • Econometricians: They use mathematics in every branch of economics. They put together economic models using methods like calculus, regression analysis, and game theory. These models explain economic happenings and help to project future economic occurrences and trends like how new taxation laws will affects employment or the duration of business cycles.

Training and Qualifications

Many jobs in the private industry and most opportunities for advancement require at least a master’s degree, often a PhD. Many schools offer graduate programs in specific areas of economics like advanced theory, international economics, demographic economics, or econometrics, and so students should find a school with the right program for them. Many schools also offer undergraduate degrees in economics. Undergraduate students should take advantages of the courses in their school to gain skills in mathematics, especially statistics, designing surveys, preparing presentations, or computer science. Also, many graduate students gain valuable experience in internships at governmental departments, business, or consulting or researcher firms.

Working for the federal government requires at least a bachelor’s degree with 21 hours of economics and at least 3 hours of advanced mathematics. Bachelor’s degrees are generally qualification for entry-level jobs like research assistants, trainee positions for management, or sales positions in most areas and corporations like consulting firms or government departments. As positions increase in the amount of responsibility required, the amount of education required increases as well. Thus, master’s degrees are often needed for higher-level jobs in research or management. Most applicants for economist positions will have an advantage if they have strong research, quantitative, or computer skills. Many top positions require PhDs. Also, the heads of many businesses and governmental agencies have economic knowledge, even if “economist” isn’t in their job title.

In order to be on the faculty at a community or junior college, an applicant needs at least master’s degree. In order to be on the faculty at a large college or university, an applicant generally needs a PhD. If a faculty member is applying for a professorship or tenure, publications and research, along with the PhD, are required.

Economists have many other skills besides their schooling that make them successful. They are detail-oriented and have good analytical skills. Much of an economist’s work consists of long-term data analysis and problem solving, so perseverance and patience are advantageous. Also, many economists work independently, so it is important that they be self-motivated and disciplined.

Industry Potential and Job Outlook

Studies show that the number of jobs for economists is expected to grow at the rate of the national average. Most new employment opportunities will arise from the turnover caused by retirements or career changes.

Most growth potential is located in the private sector, most notably in scientific research and consulting firms. The higher demand for the services of economists will be causes by the increasing intricacy of the world economy, higher competition, and the fact that more and more business predictions are based on quantitative analysis. As the skills of economists become more valuable in many different industries, there will be more and more jobs. However, as the popularity of consulting firms increase the need of companies for in-house economists decreases. Jobs in the government are expected to decrease somewhat as well, though by a smaller percentage than most other government jobs as the federal government downsizes employment. However, employment for economists in local government is expected to rise.

Even though the economy is generally on the rise, the competition economists will face is keen. Those with bachelor’s degrees will have to have a lot of perseverance and associate skills to gain the restricted number of positions they qualify for. There are other fields, however, in which they can use their economic skills that will not be so competitive. These involve designing surveys, data analysis, researchers, management, or specialists for many different businesses and agencies.

Those candidates with higher degrees, strong mathematical skills, quantitative methods, and the ability to analyze and make forecasts will be strongly competitive for any number of specialist positions. Positions at universities such as professorships or tenures, however, always have strong competition. Aspiring economists can also meet the certification requirements of their state to teach in public high schools. There is a high demand for teachers and demand is expected to grow even further as more emphasis is placed on teaching economics in high school.


In 2002, the range of income for economists was $39,000-120,000. The majority earned between $50,000 and $90,000, and the median was $69,000. Many economists may take high paying management and consulting positions in private industry.