In general, economists:
- devise systems for collecting economic and statistical data regarding economic resources, how those resources are utilized, and the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services
- develop models for projecting economic and related activities
- compile, analyze and interpret results from a wide range of economic data and activity
- help others interpret economic data
- write reports to inform policy development and decision making in government or business.
The work is essentially interpretive and analytical in nature, with an increasing emphasis on analyzing and comparing data from other economies as well as Canada's economy, and on evaluating the costs and benefits associated with alternative courses of action. Specific duties vary depending on the economist's area of specialization and employer.
Economists may specialize in areas such as money and banking, consumer economics, financial economics, public finance, monetary and fiscal policy, international trade and finance, industrial organization, natural resource or environmental economics, health, labour, urban and regional, or agricultural economics.
Agricultural, natural resource or environmental economists work for government, industry or industry associations, often specializing in a particular or closely related group of resource commodities. In general, they:
- monitor and analyze trends in prices, supplies and demand, including the impact of economic activity and regulatory changes on particular commodities
- estimate the non-market benefits and costs associated with the use of natural resources
- forecast future prices and supplies, crop sizes and the effects of various policies.
For more information see the Environmental Economist occupational profile.
Econometricians specialize in a branch of economics that relies primarily on statistics, mathematics and economic theory to develop, among other things, methods of forecasting economic variables and explaining economic behaviour. They usually work for government or large business firms. In general, they:
- investigate all areas of economics and use complex mathematical models of the economy for the purpose of analyzing economic relationships and forecasting key economic variables
- produce forecasts of particular economic parameters which can be used for study, analysis, policy development and decision making.
Financial economists work for government, banks, investment firms, insurance companies and other financial institutions. Large industries often employ economists interested in macroeconomics, money and banking, and domestic and international finance. In general, financial economists:
- study overall economic, financial and monetary conditions to analyze economic activity and forecast trends
- monitor and analyze factors affecting the money supply; stock, bond and other financial markets; the movement of interest, inflation and exchange rates; and other money market developments
- provide advice on the financing of capital requirements and the placing of investments.
Government-employed economists usually work in specialized areas in federal, provincial and municipal government departments, particularly in treasury and finance departments. In general, they:
- perform cost-benefit analyses to determine how tax dollars should be spent to maximize the benefits to taxpayers (especially for capital projects)
- study employment, inflation, tax policy, tariff and trade policies, specific industries, energy and environmental policies, social programs and assessment of the need for policy change and, if required, potential alternatives
- monitor social and political trends and policies, and their impact on the economy.
Industrial or business economists typically work for large businesses and major industrial enterprises and, in general:
- provide and interpret data on economic conditions and trends to assist management in making marketing decisions and analyzing production and investment alternatives
- study regional and national economic activity, foreign trade and capital flows, and capital markets
- perform cost-benefit analyses and feasibility studies for industrial projects
- analyze the effects of government policies and regulations and international agreements on business
- advise management regarding business strategies.
Labour or industrial relations economists work for unions, associations, employers and governments and, in general:
- study labour supply and demand, wages and hours of work, cost of living, labour market discrimination and worker productivity
- study the effect of labour legislation, employment insurance, industrial accident provisions, welfare plans, education, collective bargaining, trade unions and industrial factors on the labour force and the economy
- recommend ways to improve arbitration and conciliation techniques for settling labour disputes.
University and college economists usually:
- teach courses in economics, finance and business
- conduct research to improve understanding of how the economy works and the behaviour of stakeholder groups in the economy
- publish their findings for review, analysis and use by others.