The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the job market for economists will grow by 6% between now and 2024. In 2014, there were about 21,500 in the field of economics in the United States. The BLS predicts that about 100 more economists a year will join that workforce until 2024, and about 600 additional job openings will be available annually. This may not sound like very many jobs, but at the minimum, you must have a Masters degree to become an economist. The majority in the profession have a Ph.D.
About two-thirds of current economists have a Ph.D., or Doctoral degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The majority of others have a Masters degree, but about 8 percent have Bachelors degrees. Employees with a Bachelors degree are likely to be analysts or working in internships while they pursue a higher degree. An economist who wants to teach at the college level will likely require a Ph.D. Some in the field do teach at two-year colleges, where a Masters, not a Doctoral degree is required.
Federal, state and local government organizations are major employers of economists. From the 12 Federal Reserve banks to each of the 50 U.S. states, government organizations employ people with Economics degrees to perform a wide range of duties, including analysis and forecasting. Larger cities, counties, and economic regions also employ economists as managers or analysts for economic development organizations.
The National Association of Business Economics (NABE) is the professional association for individuals working in business and industry. People with Economics backgrounds can find work in the finance and banking industries, as well as retail, communications, investment, and manufacturing sectors. Business and trade associations also hire economists. A separate specialty of market forecasting and analysis can also provide another type of employment, researching and writing industry sector reports for executives and leadership.
Colleges and universities need faculty members to teach economics, and they also sponsor graduate economic research in all of the primary fields of economic study. Inside Higher Ed reported on a study of Economics degree recipients that was presented to the 2015 annual meeting of the American Economic Association. The 15-year study showed that the percentage of Ph.D. recipients who went on to teach declined between 1997 and 2011, but that other academic job opportunities had grown, such as working for research institutes. Overall, job growth in the college environment was seen as “modest,” Inside Higher Ed reported.
The job outlook for economists has been changing. The American Economic Association’s study showed that, while economics graduates were often college professors and researchers, post-graduate salaries were increasing at a faster rate in business and government. As to the difference between academic preparation and on-the-job realities, survey respondents said that math was more important in graduate school than it was in their real-world employment. They also said that their communication skills and ability to apply theories learned to real-world problems were more valuable in the working environment than they had been in college. Becoming an economist requires analytical, quantitative and strategic thinking skills. Economists can look forward to a salary averaging over $100,000 a year if they meet job requirements.