Economists study the production and distribution of resources, goods, and services. Economists often work independently in an office. Although most work full time, some must work overtime to meet deadlines.
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Economists apply economic analysis to issues within a variety of fields, such as education, health, development, and the environment. Some economists study the cost of products, healthcare, or energy. Others examine employment levels, business cycles, or exchange rates. Others analyze the effect of taxes, inflation, or interest rates. Economist typically do the following:
Economists often study historical trends and use them to make forecasts. They research and analyze data using a variety of software programs, including spreadsheets, statistical analysis, and database management programs. More than half of all economists work in federal, state, and local government. They also project spending needs and inform policy makers on the economic impact of laws and regulations.
Many economists work for corporations and help them understand how the economy will affect their business. Specifically, economists may analyze issues such as consumer demand and sales to help a company maximize its profits. Economists also work for research firms and think tanks, where they study and analyze a variety of economic issues. Their analyses and forecasts are frequently published in newspapers and journal articles. Some economists work abroad for companies with major international operations and for international organizations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and United Nations. Many people with an economics background become professors or teachers. The following are examples of common economist specialties:
Most economist jobs require an advanced degree, but some entry-level jobs are available with a bachelor’s degree. A master’s degree or Ph.D. is required for most economist jobs. Positions in business, research, or international organizations often require a combination of advanced education and work experience. Students can pursue an advanced degree in economics with a bachelor’s degree in a number of fields, but a strong background in math is essential. A Ph.D. in economics requires several years of study after earning a bachelor's degree, including doing detailed research in a specialty field. Candidates with a bachelor’s degree qualify for some entry-level economist positions, including jobs with the federal government. An advanced degree is sometimes required for advancement to higher level positions.
Most who complete a bachelor’s degree in economics find jobs outside the economics profession as research assistants, financial analysts, market analysts, and similar positions in business and finance. Aspiring economists can gain valuable experience from internships that involve gathering and analyzing data, conducting interviews and surveys, and writing reports on their findings. In addition, related experience, such as working in business or finance, can be advantageous. Economists must be able to review data, observe patterns, and draw logical conclusions. For example, some economists analyze historical employment trends to make future projections on jobs. Economists must be able to use logic and reasoning to solve complex problems.
Economists must pay attention to details. Precise data analysis is necessary to ensure accuracy in their findings. Economists use the principles of statistics, calculus, and other advanced topics in mathematics in their economic analyses. Economists must be able to explain their work to others. They may give presentations, explain reports, or advise clients on economic issues. They may collaborate with colleagues and sometimes must explain economic concepts to those without a background in economics. Economists must be able to present their findings clearly. Many economists prepare reports for colleagues or clients; others write for publication in journals or for news media.
Economists often work independently in an office. However, many economists collaborate with other economists and statisticians, sometimes working on teams. Some economists work from home, and others may be required to travel as part of their job or to attend conferences.
The median annual wage of economists was $89,450 in May 2010. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $48,250, and the top 10 percent earned more than $155,490.