Public Policy Analyst Salary and Career Outlook
If you’re interested in public policy, a career as a public policy analyst may be a rewarding way to make a difference and create real change in your community, country and the world. Read on to find out more about what these analysts do, and if a career in public policy is right for you.
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What Is a Public Policy Analyst?
In public policy analyst careers, you may work to shape policy toward effective and efficient ends. Public policy analysts sometimes create the ideas that later become laws, pinpointing problems and offering research-backed solutions. You may choose to pursue a public policy degree program or a certificate in public policy, depending on your career goals. One way to become more well-versed in a specific policy area is through short courses on topics such as education, crime, healthcare, welfare or national defense. For instance, public policy analysts may draft policy proposals to advocate for specific new legislation around problems in a particular niche area.
Public policy analyst jobs may be found in government or the private sector, but a common thread is seeking to shape and analyze the policy decisions that affect us—whether at the local, national or international level. They may also interpret policy philosophically, making a moral case for specific kinds of policy objectives over others.
Where Does a Public Policy Analyst Work?
Public policy careers may lead you to jobs in government, think tanks, lobbying firms, nonprofits, universities and even private sector businesses. Broadly speaking, public policy analyst job settings may be found in either the private or public sectors, working either directly within government or working to influence government from the outside.
Because public policy analysts work to influence government, public policy jobs are often centered around seats of power, such as state or national capitals. In Washington, D.C., there’s even a famed public policy district called K Street that’s home to many lobbying firms, advocacy groups and think tanks.
What Career Paths Are Possible as a Public Policy Analyst?
A public policy analyst works to influence policymakers, but they don’t necessarily work in government. Nonprofits, private businesses and law firms generally work with experts to shape public policy to their benefit and make sure their priorities are heard when lawmakers shape legislation. Because of this, careers in public policy might take people to unexpected places.
Policy Jobs at Nonprofits
Nonprofits may collaborate with public policy analysts to advocate for their cause through the crafting of policy. Many think tanks—that is, research groups centered around the crafting of policy—are 501(c)(3) nonprofits, including the Brookings Institution, the Heritage Foundation and Human Rights Watch. Though many think tanks claim they are nonpartisan, they’re often informally associated with a specific ideology.
You can find other nonprofit public policy jobs within organizations created around a specific policy area, such as civil liberties, or representing a specific group, such as immigrants or restaurant workers. In these nonprofit work settings, you may work with lobbyists and communications professionals to influence elected officials and advocate for legislation on behalf of your organization’s interests.
Policy Jobs in Government
In government work settings, policy analysts help write laws for politicians and craft platforms for political candidates. They also help evaluate existing programs and hold governments accountable for their stated policy goals. Public policy and governance is therefore in a kind of feedback loop, where some policy experts work directly for lawmakers in writing laws and estimating their impact, and others work in the government’s bureaucracy in implementing laws and documenting their impact.
As an example, proposed new changes affecting broadband access might come directly from policy analysts in a legislative office. But they also might come from the Federal Communication Commission, a government agency overseen by Congress that studies and regulates national communication systems.
Policy Jobs in Business
Businesses play a large role in crafting public policy, and a policy analyst helps businesses advocate for their industry. A recent example of this occurred in 2020, with the success of California’s Proposition 22, which allowed tech companies to classify gig workers as contractors, rather than employees. Rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft relied on policy analysts to put the law on the ballot, and forcefully and publicly argue for the law’s passage.
Policy analysts in business work settings may also help private corporations understand how new and proposed laws might affect their day-to-day operations. By identifying potential legislative challenges to their business, policy analysts proactively address these challenges.
Policy Jobs in Law
Public policy typically involves the crafting and interpretation of law and policy, and legal minds often rely on the services of skilled interpreters of the possible outcomes of these laws. In fact, many policy analysts become lawyers to better craft and understand laws, and to protect those laws against legal challenges.
Specialized policy analysts may find themselves working in legal work settings within the judicial system, rather than the legislative system, analyzing and shaping the way the justice system works. For instance, in the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which is part of the judicial branch, policy fellows research the effects of national sentencing guidelines and advocate for possible reforms.
Policy Jobs in Other Industries
Some public policy experts work in research and higher education, which may offer freedom in terms of the area of policy the analyst chooses to explore. Some institutes of higher learning even have their own think tanks for policy analysts.
Other policy analysts might work in journalism, to help the public make sense of complicated laws and proposals. For those who enjoy writing, this may be an intriguing career option.
Public policy research may be conducted by many types of organizations, offering a variety of public policy jobs. As public policy students dive deeper into their studies, they may gain a greater sense of what kind of work environment is right for them.
How Much Do Policy Analysts Make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track public policy analyst pay specifically, so within the industry there may be a wide range of salaries. According to a 2007 issue of the BLS’s Occupational Outlook Quarterly [PDF, 703KB], “workers who analyze policy might be counted as political scientists, lawyers, sociologists, economists, urban and regional planners or natural scientists, among other titles.”
The closest equivalent might be political scientists, whose job title is often that of “policy analyst.”
What Can Affect Public Policy Analyst Salary?
Job location, the specific field you’re in and the level of specialization you’ve reached all may affect your salary as a public policy analyst. Most positions in the field require at least a master’s degree, but often the requirements are even greater. Approximately 73% of political scientists have a doctoral degree, according to data from O*NET OnLine, a publication of the U.S. Department of Labor.
Public policy analyst salaries are typically affected by the level of specialization required for a position, as well as the cost of living in a particular city.
Public Policy Analyst Job Outlook
Unlike some industries, public policy positions likely will be in demand as long as there are governments. Political science jobs are expected to grow 6% from 2019 to 2029, which is faster than the average for all occupations, according to the BLS. This is also faster than the job outlook for social scientists more broadly.
There are, however, only a small number of political scientist jobs nationwide—right now, the BLS estimates there are only about 7,000 political scientist positions in America. Even with a strong projected job growth, these jobs are likely to stay competitive.
Discover these Cities for Public Policy Analyst Jobs
|Location||Typical Job Title||Annual Mean Salary|
New York City, NY
Virginia Beach, VA
Explore these Top Paying States for Political Scientists
|Location||Typical Job Title||Annual Mean Salary|
District of Columbia
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Political Scientists, May 2020
Public Policy Alternative Jobs
If you are not sure a public policy job is right for you, but you are still interested in a related field, there are many options to choose from. You might consider a degree in one of the fields below.
- Public Administration: If public policy is about the planning and shaping of policy, public administration is about its execution. By getting a master’s in public administration (MPA), you may be able to set yourself up for multiple MPA careers in public service or nonprofit management. Aside from flexible career options, there are many other benefits of an MPA degree, such as the versatility of the degree program.
- Urban Planning: Urban planners design cities with an eye for making the best use of designed public space. With an urban planning degree, you’ll find yourself both shaping policy within a city and shaping the design of the city itself.
- International Relations: In international relations, you’ll help firms, organizations and governments cooperate across borders. You may help set foreign policy, and help groups adapt to changing international laws.
- Business Administration: If you are interested in policy primarily for its effects on private businesses, you might be interested in a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Business administrators set and execute policies within a company. If this work intrigues you, an MBA may be worth it.
- Law: Whether by becoming a lawyer or by getting a master’s in legal studies, a law degree may help you assist ordinary people in navigating a complicated legal system. Depending on their specialization, lawyers often have a lot of overlap with public policy analysts.
Is a Career in Public Policy Right for You?
Though some might consider it a competitive field, public policy analysis may be a rewarding field both financially as well as personally and professionally. With a career in public policy, you may work throughout the public and private sector to identify problems, analyze policy and find new solutions. If you have an analytical, big-picture mind and want to change the world for the better, public policy may be a great career path for you.
Last Updated May 2021
This page includes information from O*NET OnLine by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA). Used under the CC BY 4.0 license. O*NET® is a trademark of USDOL/ETA.