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Loopy licensing: Why it can be quicker to become a lawyer than a cosmetologist
Loopy licensing: Why it can be quicker to become a lawyer than a cosmetologist - photo by Metro Creative Graphics

Back in the day, people could work in various professions without the state getting involved. Now, as Morris M. Kleiner, a professor of public affairs at the University of Minnesota, points out, things are a little different.

Kleiner says, in a New York Times opinion piece, "In Minnesota, more classroom time is required to become a cosmetologist than to become a lawyer. Becoming a manicurist takes double the number of hours of instruction as a paramedic."

The reason is the rise of occupational licensing. Unless people are licensed in some occupations, it is illegal for them to work in that job. Kleiner says that in 1970 only about 10 percent of people in jobs had to have licenses. By 2008 it was almost 30 percent.

An article by Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg shows the problem: "Melony Armstrong wanted to be an African hair braider, practicing a skill passed down from generation to generation. In Tupelo, Mississippi, where she lived, government licensing rules meant she had to take 300 hours of course work to start her salon: 300 hours, she notes, 'none of which covered hair braiding.'"
Armstrong wanted to be able to teach others to braid as well, but all the licensing she would need would require 3,200 hours of non-braiding course work. "That's more hours than it would have taken her to get licenses to become a firefighter, emergency medical technician, hunting instructor, ambulance driver or real estate appraiser," Ponnuru says. "It's longer than it would have taken her to get licenses for all those things combined."

One appeal of licensing is that it protects businesses that are already established — especially if the job would otherwise be easy to enter. The problem is that it raises prices for consumers.

A report by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian organization, lists some of the low- and moderate-income occupations occupations that require licenses in various states. Some of those occupations include manicurist, athletic trainer, makeup artist, milk sampler, auctioneer, floor sander contractor, taxidermist, travel guide, animal trainer, sign language interpreter, upholsterer, shampooer, interior designer, home entertainment installer, pipelayer and florist.

Kliener in the New York Times says "the growth of occupational regulation has prompted rare bipartisan opposition. On the left, there are concerns about inflated prices for essential services like plumbers and the availability of those services for people in or near poverty. Many of the jobs that require licenses are relatively low-skilled, like barbers and nurse's aides, and licensing creates a barrier that might keep low-income people out of those positions. … On the right, the issue is one of economic liberty."
At the conservative Heritage Foundation on April 30, Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee said, "Today, one in three Americans works in a profession that requires special government permission to earn a living. I'm not talking about district attorneys and anesthesiologists, but hair-braiders, eye-brow threaders, massage therapists and fortune tellers. The true purpose of occupational licensing — especially in lower-skilled trades that have always been avenues of opportunity for lower-income Americans — is to exclude as many newcomers as possible while keeping customer prices artificially high."

Lee was also there at the conservative American Enterprise Institute on May 22 when Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., according to the Christian Post, "spoke about how licensing requirements, such as those for cosmologists or food trucks, create barriers to success for those without a college education. There is current legislation in the House to address that problem."

At the same gathering, according to The Hill, AEI president Arthur Brooks, "compared the 1,500 hours of training a cosmetology license requires in D.C. to just 135 hours to become a real estate agent, which is more typically a second job for a wealthier two-parent household."

"That's anti-poor and it's un-American and we need a solution," Brooks said at the May 22 meeting, according to The Hill.

Twitter: @degroote