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Significant Points

This series includes positions that require application of a professional knowledge of economics in the performance of duties that include: research into economic phenomena, analysis of economic data, and the preparation of interpretive reports; advice and consultation on economic matters to governmental officials and private organizations or citizens; and the performance of other professional work in economics including supervision and the direction of economists engaged in the various economics programs of the Federal Government.

Nature of the Work

Economics is classically defined as "the science of the laws and conditions which affect the production, distribution, and consumption of wealth." Within so complex a society as ours, however, this classical definition often seems to become lost in the variety of efforts which absorb the attention of economists. Nearly every facet of modern life has an economic implication. Our economic "wealth" is not only the raw materials of our mines and forests and farms, but also our water and oil supplies, our power potentials, the whole fabric of our industrial and agricultural organization, our individual and collective skills, and our capacity for work; our "production" includes not only the gathering, growing and fabrication of every single thing we have in the whole of our civilization, but also the myriad of services we provide for one another; "distribution" means not only the physical transporting of things from where they are produced to where they are used, but the entire pattern of how and why all of the goods and services we have are divided among us; and "consumption" means not only what we eat and wear out as individuals, but the using up of resources within the processes of production (e.g., iron ore is "consumed" by steel mills; steel is used up in the manufacture of farm machinery which, in turn, is worn out in the production of food and fiber).

During the centuries of our history, society has developed a vast array of institutions to handle these economic activities. These institutions include, for example, the concept of a common medium of exchange -- money -- and the attendant complicated machinery of banking and credit, and the equally vast complexities of marketing, industrial relations or governmental agricultural policy, among others.

The earliest economists were social philosophers who observed and attempted to understand and explain the most obvious social phenomena around them (say, poverty) in much the same way that the earliest scientists made gross observations about the physical or biological world. Today, the tools made possible by developing statistical theory allow the modern economist vastly larger and more accurate observations, and these in turn have allowed him to develop far greater insight into and understanding of the complex interrelationships of economic activity. In a way, the development of modern statistics has done for the economist what the development of the microscope has done for the biologist. It has not only allowed him to "see" more of the working of economic phenomena, but to quantify and measure his observations with fair precision, to test his hypotheses, and to discover laws of cause and effect within Man's society which are subject to rigorous discipline.

Economists in the Federal Government contribute to some of the most fundamental processes of Government, as follows:

1. One of the important provinces of Government is to gather and record information about the society being governed, and many Government economic programs are designed to do just this. The economists so employed collect, analyze, interpret, and publish a tremendous array of economic information -- data which serve both contemporary and future scholars as "observations of economic phenomena."

2. Frequently, Government decisions on seemingly non-economic problems have economic connotations. (For example: Shall public land be used for the grazing of cattle, thus increasing our food supplies, or developed as a park to help meet our growing recreation needs? Should a highway pattern include an expressway between two major cities? Should the river be controlled by one high dam, or by a series of low dams? What are the economic costs and gains to be expected from a change in a prison policy, a public works project, a school program?) Economists are used in a variety of such programs to provide interpretive information and to advise and counsel officials charged with responsibility for such decisions.

3. The planning of Government policy and the drafting of proposed legislation to meet the problems of our times, current and anticipated, require economic knowledge and understanding. From tax structures to foreign policy, from national defense budgets to agricultural surpluses, Government economists are directly concerned with major national and international issues. Research done in such an environment is inclined to be less a seeking of knowledge for knowledge's sake, than a pragmatic search for information to solve real and immediate problems.

Economist, GS-0110-05

Scope of assignment

A typical on-the-job training situation is characteristic of economist positions at this level. Assignments cover miscellaneous duties related to problems assigned to higher-graded economists. Such assignments provide training and practice in the methods, techniques, and data sources of a particular economic specialization. Many duties (such as the routine preparation for statistical surveys, the tabulation and processing of data, the routine posting from secondary sources, the preparation of simple charts, tables, etc.) may be similar to those done by clerical or nonprofessional technical workers. The distinguishing characteristic for professional economist positions lies in the pattern of assignment which is arranged to provide a variety of training and experience and to encourage the professional growth and development of the incumbent.

Technical complexity

Although the technical complexity of the program may be very great, assignments at this level are broken down into simple steps. The greatest technical demand is that the trainee-economist learn to relate the functions assigned to him to the broader aspects of the program.


Economists at the GS-5 level are expected to learn the procedures, master basic techniques, and develop an understanding of agency objectives and policy so that they may advance to more complex assignments and assume greater responsibilities.

Economist, GS-0110-07

Scope of assignment

GS-7 economist positions typically involve an advanced on-the-job training situation. Assignments characteristically are small unified segments of projects assigned to higher-graded economists, or consist of specified duties in a continuing program. These assignments, which are normally organized in such a manner as to provide the incumbent experience and increased familiarity with the work of the organization, may include such duties as: the development of the detailed plans for a study according to established specifications and precedent; the collection and compilation of data from primary or secondary sources following detailed and exact procedures and regulations; the preparation of preliminary interpretive reports, or portions of such reports, following precise instructions.

The following are examples of the type of assignments which might characteristically be given to GS-7 economists:

1. Visit a specified list of business firms to collect detailed economic information, such as wage data or production figures, according to procedures and instructions which, although administratively exact, still require judgment in comparability determinations, recognition of data peculiarities, and similar technical evaluations.

2. Analyze and interpret factual economic statistics and draft simple press releases explaining findings.

3. Compile and place in an orderly arrangement specified economic information from a variety of indicated and readily available sources, making rough preliminary analysis according to precise instructions.

Technical complexity

Procedures covering assigned program segments may be fairly involved and include techniques of some complexity such as difficult calculations or exact comparability determinations. The greatest technical demand is a continuing requirement to learn both the method and purpose of the agency research effort and to master techniques, to become familiar with data sources and relationships, and to relate the immediate assignment to broad program needs.


GS-7 economists are expected to continue the learning process toward greater personal proficiency. In addition, they are held accountable for accuracy in following complex instructions and for developing initiative in following procedures without step-by-step guidance.

Economist, GS-0110-09

Scope of assignment

Assignments are typically clearly defined segments of larger projects. They may be part of a recurring or continuing program of economic data gathering, analysis, and interpretation, or they may be units of a special research project assigned to a higher-graded economist. Characteristically, assignments are so organized that objectives are limited and stated precisely and results are integrated into the larger framework of the program as a whole. Such assignments normally require the setting up and carrying out of working procedures, the use of a variety of established methods, and the preparation of preliminary reports according to established procedures. They do not involve responsibility for the statement of the problem, the sequencing or planning of research steps, or the selection or development of research techniques. They do, however, involve responsibility for understanding and following the design and techniques of study which have been given. The following are typical of the tasks and assignments undertaken by economists at the GS-9 level:

1. Perform several, or all, of the steps necessary to a project for collecting economic data (employment statistics, for example, or marketing data) from primary sources such as the records of business firms. Such a study may be assigned to a GS-9 economist after the planning has been completed, if the procedures are exact and well defined, if precedents for adjusting to unexpected events (sample substitution, for example) are well established, and if supervisory assistance is readily available. Individual steps of such a project, if assigned one at a time under close supervision, would be more characteristic of the GS-7 level.

2. Be responsible for the work of a small organizational unit where economic statistical data are being processed and where statistical schedules are being edited for technical reasonableness. In such a situation, work must be done according to exacting, but clearly stated standards and the GS-9 economist so assigned is held accountable for judgment in the application of such criteria.

3. Parts, or all, of the work necessary to the analysis or interpretive-report examples shown at the GS-11 level (examples number 2 and 3) might be assigned to a GS-9 economist after the research plan was completed, the procedures carefully developed, and the sequencing of each step of the project well worked out. In such a case, supervisory assistance, instruction and training would be readily available. Such work might also be assigned a GS-9 economist if the project were routine and similar to work done regularly in the organizational unit so that procedures were well established and familiar and unexpected problems were not anticipated.

Technical complexity

Although the methods used are usually covered by procedures, the techniques necessary in following procedures may be fairly complex. Some adaptation of established procedures, the recognition of significance in variations from expected results, and interpretation of limited findings in terms of the major project are typical of economist positions at this level. The number of variables involved and subtlety of relationships tend to be somewhat limited.

Technical responsibility Economists at this level are responsible not only for exactitude in following procedures and precision in using techniques, and for the accuracy of information presented, but also for use of professional judgment necessary to insure conformity with the technical intent of the research plan.

Economist, GS-0110-11

Assignments at grade GS-11 are characteristic of the first level of independent professional responsibility. This level of responsibility is represented by the full understanding and the competent application of the basic tools of the profession. Assignments which require independent professional responsibility are such that the validity of the results is presumed; that is, there is an assumption that the findings are the product of competent application of accepted professional techniques of research and analysis.

In a large and complex organization, assignments at the GS-11 level represent the smallest division of work in which management is willing to invest full professional level ability and talent. In other types of organizations where assignment patterns are made up of individual studies, work is so preplanned and sequenced that the smallest studies or simplest series of studies requiring such professional independence are assigned to GS-11 economists.

Assignments typically involve studies or program segments with readily definable objectives, available information sources, and conventional research procedures. Such studies characteristically fit within the pattern of a broad scheme of research which provides objectives, controls sequencing, and establishes timing. Within these broad considerations, however, studies assigned to economists at the GS-11 level require a thorough understanding of the basic economic problem, the integration of the assigned study into the major research problem, and the planning and execution of sequential work steps.

The following examples are typical of the type of individual assignments given to GS-11 economists:

1. Plan and carry out a project for collecting detailed economic data (employment statistics, for example, or marketing data) from primary sources such as the records of business firms. This assignment characteristically will require a complete understanding of the large research plan established by the agency, as well as considerable familiarity with established practices and procedures, covering, for example, the statistical formulae for determining sample size, procedures for sample selection, the method of organizing actual data collection and reporting, procedures for data verification, processing and tabulation, and the principles and policy governing analysis and coordination of findings. Such a project is typically a part of a large and continuing program and will include this year's data from a particular segment of the economy (like a single industry) or of the country (a particular region).

2. Plan and prepare a quantitative analysis of data on the extent and type of change in land value in a particular area resulting from a change in highway service. Such an assignment when given to a GS-11 economist will be accompanied with suggestions as to information sources and instructions covering procedures for analysis. It will require a thorough understanding of the basic techniques involved and of the purpose of the major program of which it is a part.

3. Plan and prepare an interpretive report on the productivity capacity of a particular industry, including current and historical information on the ratio of capacity to utilization, to be used as an important segment of a comprehensive industry analysis. In such a case, the economist responsible for the larger project may suggest data sources and will review the research plan, approve proposed procedures, make technical advice and instruction available throughout the project, and provide thorough review of the finished report.

Technical complexity

Although broad program planning and sequencing are provided by higher-grade economists, the following technical requirements are characteristic of this level: (1) proficiency and precision in the use of a variety of techniques, often considerably difficult and involving the correlation of numerous factors; (2) the perception necessary to recognize, understand, and explain significant, and possible subtle, variations from expected findings; (3) initiative and knowledge sufficient to select, modify or develop procedures to meet unexpected or altered conditions; and (4) the imagination, when necessary, to suggest investigations based on observations in related areas.

Technical responsibility

The economist performs each step of the research process in relation to his assigned area of investigation. He states the problem, hypothesizes a solution and plans a method of proving the hypothesis, locates and collects requisite data, analyzes and interprets pertinent information, draws conclusions and presents findings, sometimes including recommendations for action to affect related economic conditions.

Administrative responsibility

Although the selection of problems to study is usually incorporated in the assignment instruction, GS-11 economists have some responsibility for expanding or contracting studies or for initiating auxiliary studies, subject to supervisory approval. Within the limitation of established research plans, they are generally responsible for determination of data sources, selection and/or modification of techniques for data processing and analysis, and for planning the method of presentation. Supervisory assistance and guidance are readily available.

Policy responsibility

Although positions at this level do involve responsibility for the validity of data and accuracy of information upon which policy decisions may be based, GS-11 economists do not directly make or recommend policy.

Economist, GS-0110-12

Scope of assignment

At the GS-12 level the scope of assignments exceed the GS-11 level in either breadth or in depth. Broader assignments, for example, are often characterized by a diversity of studies, that is, the economist may be responsible for a number of studies similar in size to those found at GS-11, but which are being conducted simultaneously; for several of the small program segments typical of the GS-11 level; or for a similar pattern of duties requiring considerable planning and coordination.

This multiplicity, which is characteristic of the GS-12 level assignment, is distinguished from the "pattern of studies" described at the GS-13 level by the responsibility for planning of an integrated research attack on a major problem which is typical of the higher grade. For example, the variety of assignments at the GS-12 level may or may not all relate to a common problem or project but, in either case, the responsibility at the GS-12 level is limited to the coordination and completion of the studies assigned.

In addition to this pattern which relates increasing size and scope of assignments to increasing breadth, the GS-12 level also encompasses positions characterized by increasing depth, that is, the research may reach into unknown areas of economic understanding (involving new or imperfectly documents theory, premise or technique, for example), or may provide more thorough knowledge, more extensive data and more exact observations of particular economic phenomena. Here, too, assignments characteristically fit into a larger pattern of research planned by higher-graded economists to which GS-12 economists make important and often sophisticated contribution, but for which they are not primarily responsible.

Assignments characteristic of this level include the full scope of the research process, from the initiation of investigations and planning of methods, through the interpretation of findings and the preparation of final reports.

The following examples of the type of assignments characteristic at the GS-12 level are presented in terms of the hypothetical assignments described at GS-11, in order to illustrate the distinctions between the two grades:

1. Plan and carry out a project for collecting detailed economic data similar to that described in example number 1 for GS-11. Such a project would normally be assigned to a GS-12 economist when it is a first-time survey, for although the research plan would be designed by higher-graded economists as indicated at the lower level, an initial study is more likely to involve sampling problems in an unexplored universe, unexpected collection or processing difficulties, unprecedented data peculiarities or similar unexpected difficulties.

2. The analysis-of-data assignment described in example number 2 for GS-11 would be more typical of GS-12 assignments if the techniques to be used are new and unprecedented, or if the methodology itself is the subject of the investigation.

3. The interpretive report example given at the lower grade would be assigned to a GS-12 economist if there was an anticipated dearth of data requiring a difficult search for sources and complicated and imaginative extrapolation techniques.

Technical complexity

In addition to the technical complexities described at the GS-11 level, demanding technical requirements in GS-12 assignments result from the necessity of relating the immediate assignment into broader patterns of responsibility. These widening patterns may relate, in some cases, to the broad agency program and, in others, to wide theoretical concepts. Distinction from the GS-11 level of difficulty may be recognized by an increase in the number and subtlety of the variables involved, by the need for modification and adaptation of methods or for the innovation of new techniques or procedures, and by the necessity for deeper understanding and insight into the implication of findings. Such difficulties characteristically require a substantial knowledge of current economic events, movements and factors, and the implication of these factors in the agency's program concern.

Technical responsibility

As an independent professional responsible for each step of the investigative process, the GS-12 economist is accountable not only for the factual accuracy of his results but for the thoroughness of his research plan and the cogency of his interpretations. He must be able to recognize and evaluate significant and critical factors, to solve complex problems and to draw rational inferences based on research findings.

Administrative responsibility

Subject to supervisory approval, GS-12 economists are responsible for recommending the initiation, development or revision of projects or studies which fall within the framework of established agency programming and policy. Freedom in decisions of this nature may often be limited by budget considerations which are not normal responsibilities at this level. (For example, a decision to use secondary sources rather than collect primary data could be dictated, not by technical considerations, but by an unavailability of funds over which the economist has no control.) The professional responsibility inherent at this level, however, is for the optimum use of available resources -- money, men, and machines -- in meeting the requirements of programmed research.

Policy responsibility

As at the GS-11 level, the primary responsibility here is for the technical validity of findings, and economists at this level rarely have any responsibility for policy recommendations. Occasionally, assignments may require reports, analyses and interpretations which higher echelons incorporate into policy recommendations.

Economist, GS-0110-13

Scope of assignment

The scope of economist assignments typical of the GS-13 level, as at other levels, may be based on either breadth or depth. In a large and varied operation, the GS-13 economist will characteristically be responsible for a pattern of small studies or program segments which represents in itself an integrated program. Such assignments involve the initiation, formulation, planning, execution, and control of major special studies or continuing projects.

When, on the other hand, the increasing scope coincides with deeper probings into economic phenomena, assignments at this level require a systematic research attack on a problem area of such size and complexity that it must be approached through a series of complete and conceptually related research studies. The development of proposals for major legislation, for example, frequently requires extensive and difficult analyses of the anticipated economic effects of alternate plans. The GS-13 economist must initiate, formulate, plan, execute, coordinate, and bring such studies to meaningful conclusions. Assignments of this nature typically are difficult to define, require sophisticated research technique, or involve the development of new or unconventional methods or approaches.

The distinguishing feature about assignments at the GS-13 level is that they are made in terms of problems. That is, rather than being assigned to a study or a project in which the objective has been established, the GS-13 economist is given a problem which must be analyzed and defined and for which he must find a solution. The problems are such that solutions characteristically involve the design of a research plan which the economist may complete himself or may break into projects or studies which can be done by economists at lower levels. In either case, the GS-13 economist is responsible for the original plan, for coordinating the execution of the project, and for the conclusions which represent the solution.

The following are examples of the type of projects which are initiated, planned and conducted by GS-13 economists to solve particular assignment problems:

1. A series of data-gathering studies so designed and integrated as to provide an assessment of the economic impact of particular legislation with considerable economic complications.

2. A series of mathematical models to study the relationship of national income to prices and the effect of various changes in the size of the public debt on the level of national income and prices.

3. A series of studies designed to measure the effect of rising earnings, and employment benefits on social security insurance funding.

4. A project to re-examine the basic measures of employment and unemployment involving an orderly test of the sensitivity of available measures to changes in the economy and the development of more accurate barometers if necessary.

5. An investigation to determine the effect of changes in the production or consumption ratios for particular commodities on the balance-of-payments position of an underdeveloped country, including an evaluation of anticipated consequences on the country's economy.

Technical complexity

GS-13 assignments require the conceptualization of large or complex economic problems typically presenting unprecedented aspects. Requirements of this nature demand not only extensive knowledge of the problem area and related economics, but the imagination and creativity necessary to innovation. Complexities may involve the development and application of new techniques and original methods of attack to the solution of important and unusual problems; the application of a high degree of insight to isolate and define critical features of the problem; the application of considerable originality and ingenuity in adapting, extending and synthesizing existing theory, principle or technique into new patterns; or the defining and conducting of auxiliary research studies necessary to the solution of the assignment problem.

Technical responsibility

Work at the GS-13 level is performed with a marked degree of professional independence and technical authority. Economists at this level are responsible not only for the thoroughness of the research but for the significance of the findings and the effectiveness of the presentations. The work performed is expected to be a finished product, reflecting a high order of professional competence as to accuracy and critical evaluation.

Administrative responsibility

Subject to supervisory approval, economists at the GS-13 level are responsible for identifying, defining, and selecting specific problems for study and for determining the most fruitful investigations to undertake. Professional responsibility at this level includes accountability for the soundness of value judgments reflected in recommendations relative to proposed studies, changes in technical procedures and regulations, alteration in the direction of programmed research, and matters of similar difficulty and importance.

Policy responsibility

This is normally the lowest level at which a professional economist in the Federal service is expected to provide technical advice which is relied on in decisions concerning official Government action intended to affect important aspects of the economy of the nation. Such responsibility does not occur in every position at the GS-13 level and when it is part of the position it is likely to be an occasional demand, limited to the economist's immediate field of expertise. However, advice, counsel and recommendations of this nature provided by higher-graded economists and operating officials are frequently based on findings, interpretations and informal suggestions provided by GS-13 economists.

Economist, GS-0110-14

Scope of assignment

When an economist assignment at the GS-14 level occurs within the hierarchy of a large, complex operation, the responsibilities characteristically encompass two or more programs of a size similar to those assigned at the GS-13 level. Such assignments involve the formulation, programming and guidance of projects or continuing programs of great importance and significance.

When, as indicated at other levels, the assignment scope relates to depth rather than breadth of investigation, the GS-14 economist position involves responsibility for formulating and guiding major research attacks on problems of great difficulty and critical importance.

Whereas the GS-13 economist is assigned particular problems to explore and solve, assignments to GS-14 economists tend to be far less specific and to involve, rather, a broad and general responsibility for a particular area of economic activity, such as, for example, important facets of international trade or labor law. Within his area of assignment, the GS-14 economist will be expected to anticipate the need for economic knowledge, to assess the adequacy of existing programs, to identify the problems and plan accordingly. The resultant programs may be extensive and varied involving complex organization, extensive staff and elaborate research machinery, or they can be confined to the individual activity of the economist who conceives them, or they may fall somewhere between these extremes. The measure of the GS-14 economist is not the size of the program but his responsibility for authoritative knowledge in a large, complex and usually critical area of Government economic activity.

As recognized authorities in their fields, economists at this level typically serve as consultants and advisors to top-level agency officials, and occasionally may be called on to provide authoritative professional advice in the highest councils of Government.

Technical complexity

GS-14 economists are almost entirely dependent on their own personal professional knowledge and imagination in the assessment and understanding of problems of critical importance. The solution to such problems often requires originality and creativity in the development of plans, design of experiments, invention of methods or the extension of existing theory to new and unusual applications. Frequently, there is a dearth of applicable precedent, pertinent literature, or proved methodology. Technical and administrative responsibility GS-14 economists are expected to locate and explore the most fruitful areas of research in relation to the agency=s program and needs; to take complete responsibility for formulating and carrying through research plans; to assume full technical responsibility for the interpretation and application of findings; and to develop and present budget recommendations to support these plans.

Policy responsibility

GS-14 economists serve as authoritative technical advisors, within the area of assignment, in the highest councils of Government. They contribute technical information regarding the state of the economy, informed interpretation of observed economic phenomena, and evaluations and forecasts of economic movements. Theirs is the responsibility for seeing that policy makers are provided with accurate, meaningful, and properly evaluated and understood economic information.

Economist, GS-0110-15

Scope of assignment

Three major functional patterns characterize economist activities at the GS-15 level: They provide the leadership and direction for major divisions of important economic programs which gather, analyze, interpret and publish the vast array of economic information provided by our Government, or which administer legislative decisions bearing on the economic well-being of our society; they assume responsibility for economic research of great importance, significance, and difficulty which, though usually undertaken to solve urgent, practical problems of Government, frequently contributes new insights into the dynamics and relationships of an economic society; and they furnish economic advice and counsel on important action decisions of the Government, from the planning and execution of Government economic policy to the drafting of proposed economic legislation. Although it is characteristic for one of these patterns to predominate in GS-15 economist positions, most jobs involve aspects of all three.

In addition, there is a shift in emphasis in economist positions which begins to manifest itself at GS-15. At grades GS-14 and below, and in many positions at GS-15, the responsibility of the economist ends with his providing authoritative technical information and a recommendation for action. In such cases, the economist says, in effect: "This is the situation; these are the causal factors; these are the alternatives for action. If this alternative is followed, this should be the result; if that alternative is followed, then expect that result."

Therefore, although the end product of much of the work of Government economists is a decision for action based on the economic information and analysis, most of the positions in this series carry no responsibility for the actual decision. However, responsibility for decisions as to Government action on problems with important economic significance and consequences does occur in some economist positions at GS-15. This responsibility is not, of course, typical of all GS-15 jobs; when it is present it is characteristically limited to situations in which the professional judgment is based on expertness in a narrow and specific area of economics, and the decision will involve matters which, though of considerable scope and importance, will not have a critical impact on major industries or national economic interests.


Normally, GS-15 economists bring to their assignments the professional authority of demonstrated outstanding attainment within their individual fields. As a result, both their professional influence and technical responsibility are proportionately great. As administrators of major economics programs they are responsible for the integrity of the economic knowledge produced; as researchers their contributions are of such importance and magnitude that they serve to move forward the economic arts; as consultants, the validity of their professional judgments can have significant impact on the economic forces of major national or international consequence.

On the other hand, there are specific limitations to the responsibilities at this level. GS-15 economists do not, for example, head up the largest and most important economic programs of the Government. They are not expected to make policy and their authority as "Government spokesmen" is limited to their area of assignment.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Some entry-level positions for economists are available to those with a bachelor's degree, but higher degrees are required for many positions. Prospective economists need good quantitative skills.

Education and training. A master's or Ph.D. degree in economics is required for many private sector economist jobs and for advancement to higher-level positions. In the Federal Government, candidates for entry-level economist positions must have a bachelor's degree with a minimum of 21 semester hours of economics and 3 hours of statistics, accounting, or calculus, or a combination of education and experience.

Economics includes numerous specialties at the graduate level, such as econometrics, international economics, and labor economics. Students should select graduate schools that are strong in the specialties that interest them. Some schools help graduate students find internships or part-time employment in government agencies, economic consulting or research firms, or financial institutions before graduation.

Undergraduate economics majors can choose from a variety of courses, ranging from microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics to more philosophical courses, such as the history of economic thought. Because of the importance of quantitative skills to economists, courses in mathematics, statistics, econometrics, sampling theory and survey design, and computer science are extremely helpful.

Whether working in government, industry, research organizations, or consulting firms, economists with a bachelor's degree usually qualify for entry-level positions as a research assistant, for marketing or finance positions, or for various sales jobs. A master's degree usually is required to qualify for more responsible research and administrative positions. A Ph.D. is necessary for top economist positions in many organizations.

Aspiring economists should gain experience gathering and analyzing data, conducting interviews or surveys, and writing reports on their findings while in college. This experience can prove invaluable later in obtaining a full-time position in the field because much of the economist's work, especially in the beginning, may center on these duties. With experience, economists eventually are assigned their own research projects. Related job experience, such as work as a stock or bond trader, might be advantageous.

Other qualifications. Those considering careers as economists should be able to pay attention to details because much time is spent on precise data analysis. Candidates also should have strong computer and quantitative skills and be able to perform complex research. Patience and persistence are necessary qualities, given that economists must spend long hours on independent study and problem solving. Good communication skills also are useful, as economists must be able to present their findings, both orally and in writing, in a clear, concise manner.

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.

Examples of qualifying experience include:

Individual economic research assignments requiring planning, information assembly, analysis and evaluation, conclusions and report preparation;
Supervisory or project coordination assignments involving a staff of professional economists, and requiring the evaluation and interpretation of economic information;
Teaching assignments in a college or university that included both class instruction in economics subjects and one of the following (1) personal research that produced evidence of results, (2) direction of graduate theses in economics, or (3) service as a consultant or advisor on technical economics problems.

Experience in related fields that did not involve the use and understanding of economic principles and theories may not be used as qualifying experience for these positions. Special attention on this point should be given to certain types of work that may or may not have provided professional economic experience. The following examples of work require special care in such determinations:

  • economic statistics;
  • industrial surveys;
  • management of individual business enterprises, including farms;
  • industrial planning;
  • writing or editorial work in economic subjects; and
  • financial market analysis.
  • Employment

    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.

    Employment change. 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.

    Job prospects. 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.

    Sources of Additional Information

    For information on careers in business economics, contact:

    • National Association for Business Economics, 1233 20th St. NW., Suite 505, Washington, DC 20036. Internet:

    Information on obtaining Economist positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.


    • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition; and
    • Office of Personnel Management, Position Classification Standards.

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