One certainly wouldn’t want a floral arrangement assembled by an unlicensed worker, right? Flowers might not match. Maybe colors wouldn’t be coordinated. Would there be water in the vase? Oh, the problems!
That’s an absurdity presented in a new study by the Institute for Justice about the various licensing requirements that states impose for jobs ranging from makeup artist and door repair contractor to milk sampler and animal trainer.
The report, “License to Work: A National Study of Burdens from Occupational Licensing,” was authored by Dick M. Carpenter II, Lisa Knepper, Angela C. Erickson and John K. Ross.
It looks at the licensing requirements for 102 low- and moderate-income occupations across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The executive summary explains that occupational licensing is not only widespread “but also overly burdensome and frequently irrational.”
“On average, these licenses force aspiring workers to spend nine months in education or training, pass one exam and pay more than $200 in fees,” the report says. “… At least one exam is required for 79 of the occupations.”
The report says “barriers like these make it harder for people to find jobs and build new businesses that create jobs, particularly minorities, those of lesser means and those with less education.”
Take Louisiana’s requirement that florists be licensed, for example, the only state to make such a demand.
“The head of the state florist association argued that the licensure regime protected consumers by upholding high professional standards. The head of the state horticulture commission agreed: ‘If [aspiring florists] can’t take the instruction and pass the exam, how can they do an arrangement that you and I want to buy?’”
The report says such arguments “fly in the face of common senses – how do consumers manage in the other 49 states and D.C.?”
All states and D.C. require licenses for pest control applicators, who deal with poisonous chemicals, and emergency medical technicians, who literally hold lives in their hands. Also licensed across the nation are school bus drivers, transit bus drivers, truck drivers and cosmetologists.
But only single states require licenses for a forest worker, a fire sprinkler system tester, a florist, a conveyor operator or a pipelayer non-contractor. Only a handful of states demand licenses for court clerk, electrical helper, log scaler, home entertainment installer, shampooer, interior designer, packager or travel agent.
The Institute for Justice, which seeks to “advance a rule of law under which individuals can control their destinies as free and responsible members of society,” says many of the state requirements defy common sense.
“If, as licensure proponents often claim, a license is required to protect the public health and safety, one would expect more consistency. For example, only five states require licenses for shampooers, but it is highly unlikely that conditions in those five states are any difference from those in the 45 states and District of Columbia where shampooers are not licensed.
“It defies common sense that auctioneering requires permission from 33 states to practice with average requirements of 100 days – more than three months – in education and training, one exam and grade and age minimums,” the report says.
Meanwhile, 66 occupations have greater average licensure burdens than emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, including interior designers, barbers, cosmetologists and manicurists.
“By way of perspective, the average cosmetologist spends 372 days in training; the average EMT a mere 33,” the report says.
That’s even though the job description for EMTs plainly states the level of responsibility: “Removes or assists in removal of victims from scene of accident or catastrophe … administers prescribed first-aid treatment … performing such activists as application of splints, administration of oxygen or intravenous injections, treatment of minor wounds or abrasions, or administration of artificial resuscitation.”
Occupational licensure expert and University of Minnesota professor Morris Kleiner notes in the report that in the 1950s, only one in 20 U.S. workers needed the government’s permission to pursue their chosen occupation. Today, that figure is almost one in three.
Licensure hits hard at the American economy, because the 102 occupations cited are those “in which practitioners make less than the national average income.”
“Our study finds that occupational licensing is widespread. More than that, it finds that the burdens imposed on job-seekers and would-be entrepreneurs are often severe, arbitrary and irrational,” the report says.
A video report from Dick Carpenter:
“Still, the report understates the extent to which government regulations keep people out of work. For starters, it misses certain occupational licenses, including those issued by cities, counties or the federal government, as well as licenses for occupations not covered. … By focusing on licensing, it also misses other obstacles to employment, such as red tape, zoning regulations and other kinds of licenses document in the Institute for Justice’s ‘city study’ series of reports.”
The report continues:”The attraction of many transportation occupations is the potential for those with low-to-modest skills to enter the business world with a small or moderate investment in the equipment necessary to work. … This report notes that 11 states and the District of Columbia require special licenses for tax drivers or chauffeurs, but because most transportation occupations are regulated by cities, the actual barriers faced by those wishing to break into this market … are far more widespread.”
For example, in New York, a “medallion,” a license to operate a cab, “is now more than $1 million.”
Louisiana has the most licensing requirements, followed by Arizona, California, Oregon, Nevada, Mississippi, Washington, Iowa and Connecticut. At the other end of the scale were Wyoming, Kentucky, Vermont, Colorado, South Dakota, Indiana, Oklahoma and Ohio.
Some requirements move into the absurd. For example, one Milwaukee entrepreneur described the requirements for restaurateurs, including fees for outdoor flower pots, sidewalk café permits, sign taxes, garbage fees and permits to play music.
The report notes that in many situations, it is the commercial associations that work to keep and expand requirements so they can keep competition out.
Such is the fight over filing teeth in horses. Where once that service could be provided by someone simply trained in the process, veterinary boards now are demanding that horse owners hire fully qualified veterinarians.
One state requires computer repair technicians to obtain a license to be a private investigator before they are allowed to look at computer data, the report says.
“Reducing the breadth and burden of occupational licensure could help states realize significant economic benefits by freeing job-seekers to enter new occupations and enabling entrepreneurs to create new enterprises,” the report recommends. “When Mississippi replaced its cosmetology-license requirement for African hairbraiders with a modest registration requirement, 300 new braiders registered with the state. Some of those 300 moved to Mississippi from neighboring states where braiding is still onerously licensed, but others came out from the shadows of the informal economy and will now formally contribute to the economic and social health of their communities.”