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Economists - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
With experience or an advanced degree, economists may advance to positions of greater responsibility, including administration and independent research.

Many people with an economics background become teachers. A master's degree usually is the minimum requirement for a job as an instructor in a community college. In most colleges and universities, however, a Ph.D. is necessary for appointment as an instructor. A Ph.D. and publications in academic journals are required for a professorship, tenure, and promotion.

Economists held about 14,600 jobs in 2008. Government employed 53 percent of economists, in a wide range of agencies, with 31 percent in Federal Government and 22 percent in State and local government. 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 Nations.

In addition to the previously mentioned jobs, economists who hold faculty positions in colleges and universities are counted as postsecondary teachers.

Job Outlook
Employment of economists is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations. The demand for workers who have knowledge of economics is projected to grow faster, but these workers will commonly find employment in fields outside of economics, such as business, finance, or insurance. Job prospects for economists will be best for those with graduate degrees in economics.

Job Growth
Employment of economists is expected to grow 6 percent from 2008 to 2018, which is slower than the average for all occupations. Demand for economic analysis should grow, but the increase in the number of economist jobs will be tempered as firms hire workers for niche areas with specialized titles. Many workers with economic backgrounds will work in related fields with more specific job titles, such as financial analyst, market analyst, public policy consultant, researcher or research assistant, purchasing manager, or a variety of positions in business and the insurance industry. Overall employment growth also will be slowed because of the relatively high number of economists—about 53 percent—employed in declining government sectors.

Employment growth should be 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.

In addition to job openings from growth, the need to replace experienced workers who retire or leave the labor force for other reasons will create openings for economists.

Individuals with a background in economics should have opportunities in various occupations. 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, and purchasing manager.

People who have a master's or Ph.D. degree in economics, 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, some economists leave the occupation to become professors, but competition for tenured teaching positions will remain keen.

Bachelor's degree holders will face competition for the limited number of economist positions for which they qualify. However, they will qualify for a number of other positions that can use their broad-based economic knowledge. Many graduates with bachelor's degrees will find jobs in business, finance, insurance, or related fields. Numerous positions in sales should also be available. Bachelor's degree holders with good quantitative skills and a strong background in mathematics, statistics, survey design, and computer science also may be hired 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.

Median annual wage and salary wages of economists were $83,590 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $59,390 and $113,590. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $44,050, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $149,110.

In March 2009, the average annual salary for economists employed by the Federal Government was $108,010. Starting salaries were higher in selected geographical areas where the prevailing local pay was higher.

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