Economists research and analyze economic issues using a variety of quantitative and qualitative techniques. Often, their analysis is used to forecast cost and spending trends. Many work in academia, while others contract as consultants who advise corporations, government agencies and individuals on how to solve economic problems. Economists are employed in a variety of industries, such as finance, agriculture, transportation, and healthcare, among others.
According the to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2010 median income for economists was $89,450 per year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $48,250, and the top 10 percent earned more than $155,490. While the median income is a good marker for average salary, looking at the difference between the top and bottom 10 percent, the earning power of economists widely differs depending on seniority, industry and whether they work for a private corporation or in government sector.
Economists are expected to have at a master’s degree or a Ph.D but most employers only seriously consider candidates with doctorate degrees. While economists can have undergraduate degrees in an array of liberal arts disciplines, such as political science, history, and anthropology, among others, many major in economics. Regardless of undergraduate major, economists must have a strong background in mathematics.
The earning power of an economist depends on the sector in which that individual works. An economist who works in state or local government probably earns less than someone who works in private industry. High-level consultants for multinational corporations, for example, and economic experts for high-profile legal cases are known to garner higher salaries than economist in other roles, such as community college professors or consultants at local government agencies. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, scientific research firms paid median annual wages to economists that were almost $48,000 higher than those paid by state and municipal agencies.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the employment rate of economists is expected to increase by 6 percent between 2010 and 2020. Since hiring by the federal government – the largest employer of economists -- is expected to contract, the overall demand for economist is lower than the average for all occupations.