What is economics? There are many ways to answer this question, but broadly speaking, economics is the study of choices. As individuals and as a society, human behavior is built upon the choices we make. Economics is a reflection of those choices.
Working as an economist in government allows motivated professionals to help communities of all sizes better understand the implications and consequences of their choices. They help guide policy that has a direct impact on lives.
Economists can work within the communities they serve, their region or state, or the federal government’s highest levels. The following are a few examples of rewarding government jobs for economists that help shape well-informed policy in the public sphere.
Local and Municipal Government
Careers for economists in local and municipal government provide opportunities to work directly for their communities. A typical job involves working in municipal economic development. Here, economists are on the front lines of community support.
Working with other government agencies, businesses, and individual community members, economists help integrate resources from all sectors to enhance economic opportunities and improve social conditions for all members of the communities in which they serve.
Trained economists work to develop economic models of how cities grow and thrive. They employ microeconomic principles to map the internal demographics of urban centers and the neighborhoods within them.
In many aspects, working at “ground level” provides economists the most direct means of influencing policy and improving people’s lives.
Regional and State Government
Opening up the lens a bit more, economists at the regional or state level explore how cities and communities work together to form a cohesive regional economic model. As with economic development at the municipal level, economists play vital roles in assembling, synthesizing, and analyzing economic data that helps form sound policy supporting the people and businesses in their state.
Take the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance, for instance. Economist Ivan Lozano graduated with a Master of Science in Applied Economics degree from Boston College. Growing up in a low-income neighborhood, Lozano says he saw “first-hand the role government services play in assisting families in need during times of hardship.”
For Lozano, working to help others is the ultimate reward for his hard work. “Being able to utilize the skills I have learned during my studies is a huge part of my excitement in working for the government,” he says. “The idea that my whole organization is to help people get back on their feet when they are down and seeing policymakers draw conclusions through the delivery of data and storytelling is mesmerizing.”
There is no shortage of need for economists within the vast apparatus of the federal government. Economists participate at the highest levels of data analytics and research, informing everything from tax law to macroeconomic policy.
Working in the Treasury Department, economists can specialize in areas such as small business or tax compliance. Generally, economists evaluate policies that impact tax administration and taxpayer compliance and provide recommendations to policymakers through analysis of the economic environment.
Economists eager to get into the weeds of macroeconomics will find a home at the Federal Reserve Board. Tasked with setting monetary policy, the Fed relies on economists to research and parse the raw data informing national and international economic policy.
With economists working in the Department of Labor, Housing and Urban Development, CIA, State Department, and a host of other federal agencies, opportunities for economists are plenty.
The federal government employs 22 percent of the nation’s economists.
Objectivity and the Common Good
Greg Phipps is an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Working in the Bureau’s Office of Compensation and Working Conditions, Phipps supports two surveys produced at the BLS. The work entails survey data analysis to “identify trends, inconsistencies, and potential errors,” says Phipps. “I also explore ways to improve the data collection and review processes for the surveys,” he says.
On working in his role with the BLS, Phipps says the opportunity of “working for the common good” is a key motivation. “I also like that BLS is strictly non-partisan. We focus on objective analysis and let the data speak for itself,” he says. Phipps particularly enjoys the real-world impact of his work. The surveys he helps produce are used to determine military and government pay, assist with disability claims, and help companies decide what benefits to offer, he explains. “I feel like my work is making a difference.”
Phipps graduated Boston College with a Master of Science in Applied Economics in the Spring of 2020. The program “set me up for success” in his current role with the BLS, he says. “It gave me the skills to hit the ground running in terms of economic background, statistical knowledge, and machine learning techniques.”
Economists and Society
“No man is an island,” John Donne famously wrote in the 17th century. Of the many interpretations of his short poem, the one central tenet is how individual and collective well-being intertwine. Economics binds us together in mutual benefit when it works right.
Suppose economics is about the choices we make for a better society. In that case, economists working in government are central to a better collective life in our cities, states, and as a country.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better way to use my time and skills acquired to reduce the level of poverty and income inequality during tough economic times,” says Lozano.
In the end, economists help make real the potential impact of good policy.