NASA's Economic Impact

NASA sustains an estimated 339,645 jobs and $25.7 billion in wages, according to the agency’s Economic Impact Report for the 2021 fiscal year released last week. The report, prepared by the Voorhees Center at the University of Illinois Chicago, assesses the economic impact of NASA activities, including jobs created and supported by the agency (direct effects), contracting (indirect effects), and induced effects*. Induced effects include the downstream economic impact of jobs the agency supports—think NASA employees and contractors spending wages in their local economies. Together, these three figures—direct, indirect, and induced—equal the agencies “total economic output”: $71.2 billion in 2021. NASA activities supported jobs and generated economic output in all 50 states.

In addition to measuring the economic impact of all NASA activities, the report highlights the impact of the Moon to Mars (M2M) initiative and investments in studying climate change. Economic activity associated with M2M supports over 93,700 jobs and $7.1 billion in wages. The report estimates the total economic output of M2M to be $20.1 billion, an increase of 42.9% over 2019 figures. NASA climate change research and technology investments generated an estimated 37,005 jobs, at $2.7 billion in total wages per year. The report estimates the total economic output of climate change research and technologies investments to be $7.4 billion.

The brochure released along with the full report highlights the value of NASA’s Technology Transfer Program and spinoff technologies, a value difficult to quantify in dollars but significant, nevertheless. In particular, agricultural research on the International Space Station has spurred developments in vertical farming, a market worth $3 billion in 2021 and expected to grow to $9.7 billion in the next four years. NASA’s Spinoff page features many commercial products made possible by technologies the agency developed.

One reason for the agency’s high figures for indirect and induced effects is a focus on partnerships. In 2021, NASA had 700 active partnerships with US non-federal entities. These partnerships span endeavors from providing students with interactive STEM learning opportunities to developing new types of aircraft that will connect places as yet not served by aviation.

In the years to come, ambitious space exploration goals will mean the creation of many more high-skill, high-paying jobs. As NASA’s report points out, spending of these higher earnings spur waves of economic activity: multipliers that mean investments in the space sector have outsize impact on the health of the whole economy.

The report relies on IMPLAN software to generate a model of these cross-sector economic interactions and regional economic impacts. IMPLAN, according to the report, “is a widely used impact nalysis program based on a regional input-output model”.