The Hill | Roth: Reforming occupational licensing laws will expand opportunities

Collin Roth, WILL Research Fellow, writing at The Hill on how occupational licensing regulations lock people out of economic opportunity.

You might be surprised to know that in some states it’s easier to become an EMT (emergency medical technician) than a cosmetologist. Wisconsin, for instance, requires workers to go through hundreds of hours more training to follow the cosmetology rather than EMT route. The reason is a convoluted system of occupational licensing laws, which are essentially state permission slips to work in certain regulated professions.

While sometimes well-intended, occupational licensing laws have become a form of regulatory repression pushed by special interests to insulate their position with the force of law. These laws can result in a state-sponsored discrimination against certain classes of people who struggle to comply with the mountains of red tape.

Thankfully, people of good faith across the political spectrum are sounding the alarm. In May, acting Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Maureen K. Ohlhausen, an Obama appointee, said, “Unnecessary and excessive occupational licensing destroys jobs, increases costs for consumers, and threatens economic liberty…Overbroad occupational licensing inflicts disproportionate harm on the parts of our society least able to bear it — low and middle income Americans, veterans, and military families.”

A new 50 state study from our organization, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) confirms Ohlhausen’s analysis. We found that states with burdensome licensing laws have fewer jobs. Occupational licensing laws impact about one of every four workers in the United States.

To start work as a barber, cosmetologist or a massage therapist, for instance, states require a prospective worker to accomplish minimum training requirements, pass exams, meet age and grade requirements, and pay fees to the state. 

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