Tracy Lozano has $21,000 in debt from cosmetology school and works at a $9 a hour job.

Turned out that cosmetology school wasn’t, after all, the way to get ahead that Lozano, a young mother, believed it would be.

Lozano is another victim of unnecessary licensing requirements, which set up a barrier for many people (women are particularly affected)who could otherwise enter a field and work without debt.

The cause of unnecessary licensing so far has been one primarily of concern for for conservative and libertarian organizations. But Lozano’s story was told over the weekend in the New York Times. And the report was spot-on: 

The amount of time Ms. Lozano spent learning to give haircuts, manicures and facials was enormous, but the requirement was set by the state, and she didn’t much question it. She was determined to earn enough money to move out of her mother’s house. Only a few weeks after getting her cosmetology license in 2005, she was hired at a local Great Clips.

. . .

What Ms. Lozano didn’t know was that the state-regulated school system she had put her faith in relies on a business model in which the drive for revenue often trumps students’ educational needs. For-profit schools dominate the cosmetology training world and reap money from taxpayers, students and salon customers.

They have beaten back attempts to create cheaper alternatives, even while miring their students in debt. In Iowa in particular, the companies charge steep prices — nearly $20,000 on average for a cosmetology certificate, equivalent to the cost of a two-year community-college degree twice over — and they have fought to keep the required number of school hours higher than anywhere else in the country.

Each state sets its own standards. Most require 1,500 hours, and some, like New York and Massachusetts, require only 1,000. Iowa requires 2,100 — that’s a full year’s worth of 40-hour workweeks, plus an extra 20. By comparison, you can become an emergency medical technician in the state after 132 hours at a community college. Put another way: An Iowa cosmetologist who has a heart attack can have her life saved by a medic with one-sixteenth her training.

There’s little evidence that spending more hours in school leads to higher wages. Nor is there proof that extra hours result in improved public safety. But one relationship is clear: The more hours that students are forced to be in school, the more debt they accrue. Among cosmetology programs across the nation, Iowa’s had the fourth-highest median student debt in 2014, according to federal data.

An ambitious woman like Tracy Lozano, who might have done well and one day opened a salon of her  own, finds herself instead crippled by debt.

Good that this issue is getting out of the free-market world and into the mainstream.

Kudos to the New York Times for highlighting it.