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How Many Members of Congress Could Pass Econ 101?

Posted on 22 August 2011

In July 2011, the debate over the country’s then-$14 trillion national debt reached a fever pitch amid competing claims about the economic wisdom of cutting government spending and raising taxes. Congress will return to the merits of a deficit reduction plan later this fall, but will first consider a variety of proposals aimed a spurring job creation and revitalizing the country’s stagnant labor market.

In both the jobs and debt debates, there have been no shortages of competing claims about how a particular piece of legislation will impact the economy. These appeals to economic expertise beg the question: How many member of Congress have an academic background that provided them with a basic understanding of how the economy works?

The answer, it turns out, is not many. Publicly available data show that over three-quarters of members of Congress—nearly 8 out of 10—lack an academic background in business or economics. That includes 8.4 percent who majored in an economics-related field, and 13.7 percent who majored in a business or accounting-related field. Over half  majored in either government-related fields or the humanities.

Download a research brief with the full results.