Industry Outlook

Businesses and organizations will always need individuals who are skilled in the field of economics. Many companies rely on quantitative research and economic analysis to examine business cycles and improve marketing and sales. The growth of the global economy and increasingly complex financial regulations has also increased the demand for economics professionals, and that demand is expected to continue.

The Department of Labor predicts average employment growth of 4–6 percent for social scientists and related workers, and faster than average growth of 8 percent for economists through 2028. In May 2018, there were 18,650 economists working full time in the United States. The states with the highest number of jobs for economists are the District of Columbia, California, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Texas.

Increasing financial regulations, a more competitive business environment, and a more complex global economy will create demand for economists through 2028. Job opportunities will exist in both private industry—particularly management, scientific, and professional consulting services—and federal agencies in the coming years. There will be strong competition for jobs; those with a master’s degree or Ph.D., strong analytical skills, and related work experience will have good job prospects. Bachelor’s degree holders will find job opportunities in finance, business, or consulting as financial analysts, market analysts, and research assistants.

Economists who specialize in market research, financial analysis, or public policy will find jobs with consulting companies. As cited by the American Economic Association, some examples of firms where economists work include McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company, Accenture, Charles Rivers Associates, Mathematica Policy Research, and NERA Economic Consulting. Economic analysts’ work in consulting firms will entail gathering and analyzing data, developing models of specific markets, and providing testimony in lawsuits and public hearings.

Economists will find good job opportunities in the market research industry in the next few years. Strong growth has occurred since the mid-2010s and businesses are increasingly relying on market research to attract more customers and improve sales. The market research group IBISWorld reports that the market research industry generates $23 billion in revenue. As of May 2019, there were 44,164 market research businesses in the United States. Market research companies will need economists to help them with marketing analysis or research, broadcast media rating, opinion research, political opinion polling, public opinion polling, and statistical sampling.

Career opportunities in the political science field will be limited and competition is expected to be keen for the few jobs that become available. This is a small field: There were approximately 6,200 political scientists employed in the United States in May 2018. The Department of Labor projects average growth of 5 percent for this field through 2028. Political and social scientists, including economists, will continue to be needed to research and analyze the effects of government policies, such as how well public services are working, the impact of departmental cuts, and the advantages of proposed improvements. Political research and policy organizations, lobbying firms, and many social, labor, and nonprofit organizations will need economics analysts with strong research and analytical skills to work on policies and issues specific to their field. Those with a master’s degree and policy research and analysis experience will have the advantage in the job market.

Academia will offer decent job opportunities for economics specialists. The outlook for postsecondary teachers overall is very good, with 11 percent employment growth predicted through 2028, according to the Department of Labor. Career opportunities will vary depending upon the field, with some areas offering more job prospects than others. Both political science and economics postsecondary teachers will experience 8 percent employment growth, which is faster than the average.

Enrollment in colleges and universities was hindered by the strong economy at the end of the decade, as a growing number of high school graduates chose to work instead of pursue college studies. IBISWorld reports that the colleges and universities industry is a $487 billion business that has declined 0.9 percent since 2014. College enrollments are expected to remain strong through 2024 because of rising high school retention rates. However, many schools have cut their budgets for full-time non-tenure and full-time tenure teaching positions. There will be more job opportunities for part-time postsecondary teachers, and those who have a Ph.D. in economics will have the advantage in the job market. The states that employ the highest number of economics teachers are New York, Texas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and California.

The study of economics assumed greater interest in 2020 when a global coronavirus pandemic disrupted global and local economies, curtailed international travel and trade, and led to an unexpected rise in unemployment. In the U.S., GDP fell by 5 percent during the first quarter of 2020, and over 42 million Americans applied for unemployment as a global economic recession began. Fiscal policymakers struggled to contain or mitigate the effects of the virus and the resulting stay-at-home orders and quarantining, which naturally slowed the economy down greatly, and in the U.S. the government issued stimulus checks, payroll support grants and loans, and took other steps to help Americans weather the economic downturn. While economists played a role in managing many of these initiatives, professionals in this field were subject to the same risks of unemployment and financial uncertainty as workers in other fields.

Economists will continue to be needed in the coming years to analyze data and make predictions that are helpful for numerous industries, particularly those industries that are recovering from the effects of the pandemic. The rollout of vaccines for COVID-19 in 2021 and the subsequent economic recovery will be a focal point for economists. As schools and colleges reopen, more economics teachers will be needed. And as businesses move from remote to on-site work, more employment opportunities are expected for economists. Demand will continue for economists to analyze and forecast employment and business trends for post-pandemic times. As of early 2021, many economists predicted that the economy will recover to be different than it has been in the past. The reason for this is that many jobs that existed prior to the pandemic will not come back. An article in The Economist predicts that by 2025, one in six American jobs will be lost. In the coming years, a large percentage of people who are unemployed will be changing occupations or their field of work.