How to Become an Economist

If you excel at mathematics, pay close attention to details and are good at thinking critically, you might wonder how to become an economist. Economists research past and current trends in how goods and services are produced or performed and sold, usually with the intention of predicting what price goods and services will sell for in the future. Though securing a position as an economist often requires advanced formal education, these professionals enjoy high earning potential and interesting work that satisfies their analytical natures.

Economics refers to the investigation of how resources, services and manufactured goods are produced, dispensed and used. Economists gather and evaluate economic information. They often start by creating, administering and compiling the results of questionnaires regarding past and current economic trends. Economists use the statistical and mathematical strategies and methods they learned through years of schooling to assess data. They use their analyses to form predictions for how the economy will function in the future, and they present these predictions to government officials or business supervisors in the forms of written reports, often with numerical tables and visual graphs to provide the most complete data possible. Analyzing the quantity of complex data that economists work with requires proficiency in the use of special computer software, such as that used to manage databases and perform statistical analyses. When issues arise in the economy, government officials and business managers look to economists for answers and advice on why the problem is occurring and how to rectify it.

In the United States, government entities are largest collective employer of economists. More than half of the nation’s economists worked for some level of government as of 2010, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Nearly one-third of all economists worked for the federal government, while 13 percent worked for state governments and another seven percent worked for local governments. Still other economists worked for businesses, especially those in consulting or scientific research industries, or at academic institutions. Economists may specialize in fields such as labor, finance, industrial organization and international trade.

Nearly all positions as economists require that candidates possess at least some college education. Certain entry-level positions may be available to candidates with a bachelor’s degree in a math-related subject such as economics, but more commonly, employers seek candidates with master’s degrees or even Ph.D.’s. A graduate degree may be a necessity for economists who wish to advance to better opportunities and increase their salaries. During their educational career, many aspiring economics gain valuable real-world experience by completing internships.

As of 2010, economists earned a median annual salary of $89,450, the BLS reported. Six-figure salaries are not uncommon for economists, particularly those who work in research fields or in certain divisions of the federal government. If you enjoy working with numbers and appreciate the challenge of analyzing numerical data and patterns, knowing how to become an economist could be the first step on the path to a profitable new career.

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