By Mike Lillis - 08/23/11 04:47 PM EDT
Almost 80 percent of lawmakers have no academic background in business or economics, even as Congress grapples with deficits, unemployment and other economic issues of tremendous complexity, according to an independent analysis released Tuesday.
The Employment Policies Institute (EPI) found that only 8.4 percent of lawmakers majored in economics or a related field, while just 13.7 percent studied topics related to business or accounting.
Most Capitol Hill lawmakers (55.7 percent) focused their studies on government, law or the humanities, EPI found, while 11.5 percent majored in science- or technology-related fields.
The report arrives as Congress continues to joust over deficit reduction, spending cuts, tax reform, and the role of the federal government in pulling the country out of a prolonged jobs crisis.
Republicans argue that the size of government – combined with enormous levels of federal spending – have contributed both to the recent recession and the slow pace in pulling out of it. They want to cut taxes, slash spending and scale back regulations they say are strangling private sector job creators.
Democrats, on the other hand, see the government playing an active role in bolstering the economy. They're pushing proposals designed to create jobs by increasing infrastructure spending, lending a lifeline to states and hiking taxes on corporations that outsource jobs.
Michael Saltsman, a researcher at EPI, was quick to concede that the lack a formal background in economics or business does not automatically preclude lawmakers from making informed choices about economic policy.
"There are plenty of people who have done it well," Saltsman said.
But given the intricacy of the economic issues lawmakers are tackling this year, a formal introduction to those topics "would certainly help them to evaluate these things better," Saltsman added.
In crunching its figures, EPI excluded nonvoting members, such as those representing Guam and the District of Columbia. The group also did not take into account those lawmakers without business or economic degrees who nonetheless launched business careers.