Webinar: Economic Careers in Government Institutions

by Ralph Sonenshine, Assistant Professor and Program Director

Webinar: Economic Careers in Government Institutions

In this online MA in Economics Webinar, Program Director Dr. Ralph Sonenshine discussed the career opportunities within government institutions, along with how the program prepares students for this field of work.

The following is a partial transcript of the archived presentation, which can be viewed in full here.

Program Highlights

Ralph Sonenshine: First, our program is designed to evaluate economic analysis from other research, and certainly add to your own research. It consists of many courses where you're learning the tools of economic analysis, both micro and macro, the tools in econometrics, and then applying them to field courses, such as labor and development.

We want to highlight in our program that students be working with full-time faculty that are experts in major applied fields. Those fields include development and financial management.

The faculty have links to various organizations around town, here in Washington, D.C., as well as other areas, including government institutions, and other research institutes. Students be working with the hands-on statistical software-- often, but not exclusively-- with Stata, in learning applied economics research. Our Washington, D.C. location, gives you the opportunity to explore various professional opportunities. Lastly, it's one of the few economic programs that can be done entirely online.

Curriculum Overview

The curriculum is 10 courses, and it follows a certain pattern. Students will be analyzing micro and macro problems in our Microeconomic and Macroeconomic Theory courses at the graduate level. Each of these courses are designed with both rigorous problem-solving, as well as policy analysis.

Next, students apply these foundations into development, labor, and public finance courses, including Applied Econometrics (I, II). Econometrics is the tool of the trade of economics, and it's used to explain outcomes, and as well as make predictions.

Lastly, we emphasize the ability to communicate economic analysis through our capstone course. Students will be doing a master's thesis, or as I like to think about it as, like a chapter in a dissertation where students be combining everything you've learned into one empirical paper, using your statistical analysis to solve an economic problem that you come up with on your own.

Key Skills for Economists

Critical thinking skills, with regards to economics, are being able to accurately make predictions or develop hypotheses. In reality, we probably are developing more hypotheses of causation than making predictions.

Students will also need quantitative and analytical skills as accountants must be able to determine the best ways to analyze datasets in order to answer questions. Computer programming skills are important. Typically, we're using large datasets to answer a question that's placed, that's formulated in hypothesis framework. So, does A cause B, or is there some evidence that A is causing B? Sincere employers will look for this detail orientation and precise data analysis, as well as statistical programming that students learn in Stata, SAS, and Excel as well.

Lastly, communication skills to present these results to economists and non-economists, alike, in both written and oral presentations. This is very important because you may be asked to speak in many kind of forums, whether its media, or preparing papers for publications, et cetera.

Job Outlook

6 percent job growth is projected through 2024, and that's been fairly constant. We've looked at that number over the last couple of years, and it continues to be strong in terms of just the number of people that identify themselves as economists, have been growing by roughly 6 percent a year, and are projected to continue.

In the median income among those folks, which includes everybody that's been out for 30 years as well as new job entrance, earns a $101,000 median income.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Sectors

We broadly think about where economists work in three sectors - the private sector, which can be finance, as well as just working in any kind of industry, whether it's pharmaceutical industries, or manufacturing.

Secondly, is a broad array of consulting, such as economic consulting firms, and policy institutes or think tanks, and we did a webinar last time on these companies and institutes. We segmented and looked at what kinds of traits they're looking for, and what do they do.

Lastly, federal, state, and local government — mainly federal government, which we’ll discuss in this webinar.

Top Government Employers

Bureau of Labor Statistics is certainly very high on the list, as well as the Department of Justice.

The US Department of Justice hires economists, both in antitrust division, as well as its sister government agency, the Federal Trade Commission. The Federal Reserve focuses on monetary policy and all kinds of reporting. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency part of the Commerce Department employs a tremendous number of economists.

Why American University?

96 percent of AU College of Arts and Science master’s degree graduates are employed, continuing education or both. Some other stats include:

  • 52 percent of graduates are working in government
  • 32 percent are working for industry (a lot in finance or the private sector)
  • 16 percent in nonprofit
  • 7 percent continue on with graduate education
  • 18 percent are working and attending grad schools

Government Economist Specialties

Specialty: General Economists
Potential Employer: Department of Commerce, Department of Labor, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Congressional Budget Office, Congressional Research Service, EPA, CFTC

Specialty: Financial Economists
Potential Employer: The Federal Reserve

Specialty: Labor economists
Potential Employer: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Specialty: Regional economists
Potential Employers: State governments or agencies focusing on the regional economy

Specialty: Industry economists
Potential Employer: Department of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission

Specialty: International economists
Potential Employers: Federal Trade Commission or International Trade Commission

Specialty: Agricultural economists
Potential Employers: Department of Agriculture

Graduate Spotlight

Background and Role

Christine Higgins: I work with the United States Census Bureau in the Department of Commerce. I've been there for about five years, and I graduated from AU in 2014. So, I was actually going to school and working at the same time, which a lot of people do.

One of the interesting things about working with surveys is that, in graduate school, you use a lot of survey data to make a hypothesis. You run your regression, which is where you’re actually seeing how the data gets collected, disseminated, and analyzed.

During my time at the Census Bureau, I've worked on three survey areas.

Generally, survey statistician jobs are going to be comprised of two large roles. The first role is conducting a micro and macro analysis where you’ll look at specific company data, or specific export/import data, or even demographic data, and determine if the data makes sense. Then, for the macro trends, you can look at larger economic trends to look at things like retail sales going down.

The other role consists of a lot of survey operations and procedures which just sees through how the survey actually gets done.

Why American University’s MA in Economics?

As for why American University — AU has a great reputation; I'm sure you've heard that before. When I mention that I graduated from there, people recognize it immediately -- they know someone who's been there, and it's just a great networking tool to have. It also gives a great background for data analysis, research with Stata, and regression analysis.

For example, in my position, I don't do a lot of the heavy data analysis. For that, you would be a mathematical statistician, who gives us the data about the regressions, the different methods they use, and the paradata. Being an AU graduate has allowed me to sort of be the liaison, and even translator, between them and the rest of my survey area who's not as familiar with those kind of terms and methods.

Applicable Skills Acquired from the Program

The data analysis is very helpful. I had a friend who went to AU with me -- he works for the Bureau of Economic Analysis -- and Stata was huge for him. He was able to get on-boarded very quickly and the training period didn't last as long because he was so familiar with those mathematical software packages.

Communication has been a huge skill that's helped me in my job. A lot of what I did, in my first survey area, was write about the economic trends, mergers and acquisitions, and bankruptcies. I also read other research papers. I was able to synthesize all that information and communicate it to an audience in a way that the senior staff could understand.

So that was definitely a critical skill I learned at AU. So I definitely recommend AU. I enjoyed my time there, and I definitely think it's been helpful for me as a federal worker.

From the Presentation Q&A

Nicole Andrews: What are the typical employment outcomes you see with this degree, and are there any roles that are more common than others?

Ralph Sonenshine: We say 52 percent of graduates become federal or government employees. So again, we want to think about the three types of employers: federal, consulting, and private. Then, another third would go into private and the last 15 percent would go into consulting.

You’ll see roles like a budget analyst or other federal or state budget-related roles. We've been able to place some graduates with IMF and the World Bank.

The top employers would be the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The overall Commerce Department employs newly-minted, master's in economics economists to do various sundry industry analysis, pricing analysis, and looking at the effective legislation.

The Congressional Research Service is another one that's employed a fair number of our economists as well.

Nicole Andrews: Can you give an example of a capstone project in the economics program?

Ralph Sonenshine: I've been extremely impressed with the creativity of our students. This one student looked at the effect of corporate tax changes on stakeholders. States actually have a corporate tax, as well as federal. So he looked within the 35 states that have changed their corporate taxes' rate, and he wanted to see the effect on company profits, pricing, wages, and government revenue. So, it's quite an ambitious paper, but one that was well done.

Other projects consisted of looking at funding versus educational outcomes. Basically, if you could think of a regression equation, your input is the amount of funding that a government puts into education. For this project, you're measuring educational outcomes, whether its number of years in school or literacy rates, so you’ll want to see if you increase the amount of funding for education, does that give you better educational outcomes?

Nicole Andrews: What do you feel it takes for a student to be successful in the economics program?

Ralph Sonenshine: First, you do need to dedicate yourself to the program. This is a top-ranked, rigorous program. It's meant to mirror our on-campus program. However, almost all of our students are active professionals, so it's certainly something that you can do while working.

But, I think there is a possibility that you can lose focus during the time and other things can come up. So you want to remain focused on the program during the 20 months that you're in the program.

Second, you have to have the ability to problem solve. You should be able to solve problems, whether mathematical or policy-oriented. You should like working at something until you can arrive to an answer.

So again, dedication to the program and problem-solving is key.

Additional Resources

Career Outlook

Student Testimonials

Consulting and Research Careers Webinar

Economics Careers Webinar

Economists Career Path Infographic

Career Opportunities Guide

Types of Economists You Can Be

What It Takes to Think Like an Economist

Must Read Books for Aspiring Economists

To learn more about American University’s online Master of Arts in Economics and your future career path, request more information or call us toll free at 855-725-7614.