New laws in Arizona, Montana and Pennsylvania offer a glimmer of hope for workers in occupations that require licenses. Now these states will recognize occupational licenses issued in other states, helping workers avoiding unnecessary expense and additional training. It’s the same principle of reciprocity behind all states’ acceptance of driver’s licenses issued in other states.
Workers in these states welcomed the opportunity to practice their profession, now possible because of recognition of out-of-state licenses. A local Arizona newspaper reported that the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners had “over 40 [license transfer] applications pending prior to the application date, waiting to be granted on the first day.”
But this new wave of laws doesn’t go far enough. The problem with occupational licensing isn’t just the headache that comes along with moving across state lines, but it’s that so many occupations require licenses in the first place.
Some states require licenses for canine massage therapy, children selling lemonade on the side of the road, selling mistletoe at a Christmas market, shoe-shining, music therapy, and more.
And Louisiana is the only state where the public is safe from untrained florists. In order to obtain a license, florists must undergo a written exam. This is the perfect example of government control forced upon an innocent and harmless occupation.
The unnecessary license requirement reduces the number of florists on the market. This drives up prices, hurts competition, and tamps down on entrepreneurship. Maybe licensed florists benefit from this anti-competitive barrier to market entry, but they’re the only winners in this rigged game.
Arizona’s Grace Grantanelli had found her passion as a privately certified — wait for it — canine massage therapist. She was forced to close her business when Arizona’s veterinary board told her she needed to become a veterinarian in order to continue her massage therapy.
In a country that prides itself on entrepreneurial spirit and opportunity, arbitrary licensing requirements stifle ambition and place unnecessary burdens on people looking to improve their prospects with new careers.
Of course, in some cases, there are legitimate reasons – like consumer safety – for occupational licenses. Licenses are necessary for medical professionals such as doctors and nurses. But states have taken this concept and expanded it far beyond its proper scope. The enforcement of safety standards is compelling when it comes to heart surgery, but less so when you’re trying to buy flowers or get your hair braided.
In the 1950s, licensing affected only a small portion of workers. Seventy occupations had licensing requirements, impacting only 5 percent of workers. Skip to 2016, when 1,100 occupations require licenses and today, when 22 percent of workers are affected.
The hundreds of occupations back in 1950 that didn’t require licenses weren’t putting people at risk. Those people also weren’t tolerating government interference in their jobs and livelihood
Whether they affect a college graduate trying to earn some money by braiding hair or a high school student helping protect neighbors’ homes from rats, arbitrary license requirements that vaguely cite “quality and safety” as their reason for existence need to be reconsidered.
Laws that recognize out-of-state licenses are a great first step. These will greatly benefit individuals such as military spouses who must move every couple of years and often have difficulty finding jobs at the new locations.
But states must do more. True reform requires attention not just to transferability of licenses, but also to arbitrary license requirements.
This is an issue that affects all Americans, regardless of their political leanings. The federal government has begun to recognize this and provide incentives to states to encourage occupational licensing reform. These include the $7 million from the Department of Labor to help states streamline the process and the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, among other more targeted legislation.
The American Dream promises opportunity for hard work and innovation. Unnecessary occupational licenses create obstacles for Americans who are working to succeed in new careers and entrepreneurial opportunities.