“In Tennessee, a license is required to shampoo hair; in Florida, to sell a yacht. In Montana, you need the state’s approval to be an egg candler; in Utah, to repair upholstery; in Louisiana, to be a florist.”
As that paragraph from a recent New York Times article demonstrates, state licensing regulations affect workers from all across the country, in all kinds of professions.
Occupational licensing laws, which are becoming increasingly prevalent nationwide, ostensibly serve the purpose of making sure that professionals have adequate expertise and training. In certain professions, licensing is a crucial consumer protection; no one wants to be operated on by someone lacking the proper medical training, for example. Yet these protections increasingly risk stifling competition from entrepreneurs and startups by requiring costly and time-consuming training that is often irrelevant and unnecessary. For example, in many states, people who want to braid hair are required to spend more than $20,000 and more than 2000 hours at cosmetology school, learning skills that they don’t intend to practice, like giving manicures and bleaching hair.
Advocates for occupational licensing unsurprisingly include state licensing boards, which are typically dominated by members of the regulated profession, as well as their lobbyists, industry trade associations, and publication relations staff, and the typically for-profit colleges that offer the requisite training courses. This bolsters the belief that occupational licensing regulations are often intended to insulate existing businesses from competition from new entrants.