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What Does an Economist Do?

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Economists study a wide range of economic issues, including supply and demand, worker wages and tax rates. They use analytical thinking and complex problem-solving skills to understand economic issues, forecast trends, and make recommendations for businesses and policymakers. The specific responsibilities of an economist depend on the employer, specialty area and specific project.

Duties of an Economist

Economists begin their research on an issue by conducting surveys and collecting data. In some cases, they evaluate historical data. Using statistical and other mathematical methods, economists analyze and interpret the data. The results are organized into reports, journal articles, graphs and charts, and relied on to make recommendations on policy and problem-solving. For example, economic research into the effect of implementing an excise tax on tobacco found that cigarette consumption decreased, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Economic research also found that increasing taxes on alcohol decreased the transmission rates of STDs and the number of traffic-related deaths, states the National Institutes of Health.

Government Jobs

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 45 percent of economists were employed with the government as of 2012. They study data relating to the U.S., state or local economy, such as employment rates, the price of goods and services, worker wages and projected spending. Economists share their data and findings with policymakers and help them understand the potential effect of new laws and regulations.

Private-Sector Employment

Outside of government employment, economists work for corporations, financial firms, non-profit organizations, international organizations and research companies. In a business setting, an economist helps to increase company profits by analyzing customer demand, sales and pricing. In financial firms, they might analyze market trends and interest rates to make investment strategies. Non-profit organizations, such as the Multilateral Investment Fund, might employ economists to research the factors affecting women entrepreneurs and help to create programs to support women.

Specialty Areas

Economists may decide to choose an area of specialty. For example, public finance economists study how government policies, such as tax cuts and welfare programs, affect the economy. Econometricians develop mathematical models using methods such as game theory and calculus. International economists study the global economy, including factors such as international trade, exchange rates and the global financial markets.

2016 Salary Information for Economists

Economists earned a median annual salary of $101,050 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, economists earned a 25th percentile salary of $73,890, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $138,120, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 21,300 people were employed in the U.S. as economists.

Number of Jobs for Economists (by year)
Year Number of Jobs