It’s commonplace to hear about “GDP,” and economists are to thank for that. But the job of an economist goes far beyond analyzing gross domestic product. Economists spend their days studying how society distributes its resources – everything from land and labor to goods and services. Their research and collected data is analyzed and used to monitor economic trends and develop economic forecasts for nearly everything including inflation, energy costs, interest rates, exchange rates, business cycles, taxes and employment levels, as well as other things.
There are a variety of subtopics that economists may study, including microeconomics, industrial and organizational economics, macroeconomics, monetary and financial economics, international economics, labor and demographic economics, public finance economics and econometrics. Each of these subtopics is concerned with a specific area of economics as a whole, but general knowledge of the basic principles is essential to this field.
The two most commonly referenced areas of economics are microeconomics and macroeconomics –what are considered core requirements in college for those studying business. Microeconomists study supply and demand trends as they relate to both individuals and businesses; they seek to determine how profits can be maximized and how much of a given product consumers will purchase at a given price. Macroeconomists are charged with studying historical trends in the economy as a whole and use this data to predict future trends in unemployment, inflation, economic growth, productivity and investment.
Information gathered by economists is applied to many areas across a variety of industries including health, education, agriculture, urban and regional economics, law, history, energy and the environment. Economists work in small firms, large corporations and even the federal government.
Large corporations often employ economists to watch microeconomic issues and, in addition to the standard microeconomic issues, these economists also watch and analyze competitors’ market share and advise the corporation on how to deal with the competition. They can also be employed to monitor legislation passed by Congress and analyze how new laws will affect the corporation they work for. Economists who work for the federal government administer surveys and collect the majority of economic data gathered about the United States; some work for the United States Department of Commerce, while others work for the United States Department of Labor.
Just like their counterparts in the corporate sector, federally employed economists watch the effects of changes in legislation and public policy to determine how they will affect the economy at large; this includes the effects of changes to Social Security, tax cuts on the budget deficit, and the imposition of tariffs on imported goods.
Entry-level positions are available to those with a bachelor’s degree in economics, but a higher level degree is preferred by most employers and required for many positions. Many private-sector jobs and higher-level jobs are open to only those with a master’s degree or Ph.D. At the graduate level, economics students can expect to study and prepare for a number of specialties including international economics, econometrics and labor economics; additionally, courses in mathematics, statistics, sampling theory and survey design, and computer science are also helpful. A significant number of those holding economics degrees choose to enter into the field of education.
Currently, the government employs more than half of all economists within a number of agencies at the federal level and in state and local governments. Employment in this field will continue to grow, but at a slower pace than average, at least for the general economist; those with specialized areas of expertise are expected to fare far better. Wages in this field vary, with some professionals earning as little as $44,000 and the high-wage earners topping out at nearly $150,000.