Why do hair braiders need a license?

African hair braiding is a natural process of styling and caring for hair that doesn’t require the use of scissors, heat, or chemicals. It offers (black) women a good, flexible living or – as with a couple of my college classmates – a gig on the side.

Yet, in a number of states, anyone who wants to get into hair braiding needs the government’s permission to do so. They need an occupational license and to obtain one, they must go through time-consuming and costly cosmetology training programs that have nothing to do with braiding. There’s no safety or health risk posed by hair braiding either that warrants the added training.

This is just one of many examples of occupational licensing regulations that lock women, young people, and people of color out of opportunity to work and start their own businesses in our country.

The Acting Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, Maureen Ohlhausen, wants to see these barriers removed. A year ago, she laid out arguments in her testimony before a U.S. Senate committee hearing on occupational licensing. Now, she’s making good on plans to work with states to reform occupational licenses.

This week, Ohlhausen announced a task force to reduce occupational licensing. She explained the irrational requirements for occupations like hair dressing and interior designing:

“I challenge anyone to explain why the state has a legitimate interest in protecting the public from rogue interior designers carpet-bombing living rooms with ugly throw pillows,” Ohlhausen said.

“Market dynamics will naturally weed out those who provide a poor service, without danger to the public.”

We are hard-pressed to understand why as well. These licenses are justified as necessary steps to protect consumers’ health and safety. After all, ugly wallpaper or a bad haircut may kill you, right?

In reality though, the purpose is for established business to stifle competition, which usually offer lower prices. The licensing boards are often comprised of business owners who have a vested interest in making it more difficult – not easier – for new competitors to set up shop.

States (particularly Republican-led legislatures) have been leading the charge to reform occupational licenses. Ohlhausen recognizes that, but sees the FTC’s role as coming alongside their efforts:

“I am pleased to say that governors and state legislators in many states are already identifying problematic occupational licensing and prioritizing the roll back of occupational regulations,” the chairman said. “Accordingly, I hope to create a new level of partnership with governors, state attorneys general, state legislative leaders, and other state and local officials, to integrate competition considerations into their decision-making process.”

This is not the first time that Washington has pushed for occupational licensing reforms. The Obama Administration released a telling report on the expansion of occupational licenses over the past few decades and how it limits opportunity for those who need it.

They also announced $7.5 million grant program to anyone willing to reform licensing in their states, which could have been accessible to the very same boards who set up the requirements to conduct faux reviews of their licenses but not make any real changes. After all they have no incentive to make it easier for new competition.

If the FTC is a cheerleader for occupational licensing reforms, that’s an excellent boost to state efforts. Let’s just hope that they don’t get used to working against real reform.