Economics is the pulse of modern civilization. The study of economics prepares students to play meaningful roles in improving the human condition by contributing to a healthy economic climate. Economics is a "social science". Those two words provide a good bit of the answer to the title question. Economists are scientists. We design experiments, test hypotheses, make predictions, etc. As such, a good economist requires the same sort of skills needed by a good chemist or physicist. (We do a lot of mathematical modeling and statistical analysis.) As social scientists, economists work in the laboratory of everyday human and organizational behavior.
We study the choices people make as individual consumers, voters, taxpayers, employees, managers, borrowers, lenders, property owners -- and how those choices affect all our living standards. Our work takes us everywhere. We study the differences in wage rates earned in different occupations, the connection between the profit motive and the environment, the advantages and disadvantages of foreign trade, the causes and costs of inflation and unemployment, the effect of government regulations on health care, the rate of return on education, the impact of new technology on costs and prices, global opportunities and challenges that we will face in the new century, among many other topics.
Economics majors learn to reason as economists, to evaluate facts and ideas analytically, to understand economic issues of historical and contemporary importance, and to achieve clarity of expression and independence of learning so that they are prepared for further education, responsible citizenship, and rewarding careers. Because of the intellectual versatility and analytical skills they develop and the wide range of issues they investigate, economists turn up almost anywhere, and move easily from one assignment to another. As an expert on competition, an economist might be involved in prosecution of antitrust cases, design of farm policy, negotiation of trade agreements or union contracts, decisions to deregulate cable TV or electricity distribution, etc., etc. As an expert on forecasting, an economist might be engaged to predict interest rates, exchange rates, consumer spending, the size of the trade deficit, etc., etc. Graduates who major in economics have gone on to careers in law, government, business, finance, foreign service, consulting, education, and research.
Who employs economists?
Big business in any industry,
State and federal agencies that make government policy or regulate businesses (Congress, EPA, FTC),
Research organizations (think-tanks),
The media (Business Week, Fortune),
International organizations (World Bank, IMF),
Large non-profit organizations, labor unions, etc.
With a B.A. in economics you can start out in a management training program in almost any industry or as a research assistant in a government agency. With a graduate degree in economics you can start out a lot closer to the top. In addition, economists are frequently self-employed as consultants.
Last, but not least, because of the skills developed in a good undergraduate economics program, economics majors score better on the Law School Admission Test than students from any other discipline.