In 2016, Rosiris and Luis Ramirez invested in their future by opening their own business, Roxy Nails Design in Hartford, Connecticut. The early years were difficult as they pursued their dream, but by this past spring the struggles gave way to success and the nail salon was thriving, with four nail technicians and a loyal client base. Then COVID-19 hit, and Connecticut ordered Roxy Nails to shut its doors.
Rosiris and Luis planned to reopen and begin to rebuild their business on May 20, when the state announced plans to begin easing restrictions. However, when May 20 rolled around, the Ramirezes watched gyms, retail stores, and even hair salons reopen while their business remained closed. The state arbitrarily decided to keep nail salons shuttered for at least another month, even though Roxy Nails took the necessary measures to ensure they can safely offer nail care services to the public and could reopen just as safely as a hair salon or gym. Their dreams were once again at risk.
It’s no secret that running a small business is one of the hardest jobs in America. Costly regulations and government barriers to entry, like permitting laws and building regulations, make opening any small business tough. That difficulty is compounded in women-dominated professions like cosmetology and nail services, where the added burden of occupational licensing requirements puts unnecessary and onerous time and cost constraints on people who just want to earn a living.
In Connecticut, it takes 1,500 hours to become a cosmetologist—1,350 more hours than are required to save lives as an emergency medical technician (EMT). Manicurists in Alabama must complete 750 hours of training, while becoming licensed as a pharmacy technician requires only a $60 fee and zero hours of training. To simply shampoo hair at a salon in Kentucky—something most people do at home every day—takes 1,500 hours of training, six months of experience, two exams, and $400 in fees.
Add COVID-19 shutdowns to the mix, and this tide of regulations bearing down on women-oriented businesses makes finding work even more difficult. During Connecticut’s shutdown, the Ramirezes invested part of their rapidly dwindling savings to purchase protective gear and equipment to ensure they could open again while meeting state and national safety guidelines. The state arbitrarily pushing back their opening date made it questionable whether the Ramirezes would be able to hang on long enough to actually use it.
Fortunately, nearly a month after many other businesses in their area reopened, Roxy Nails was finally allowed to welcome back staff and customers on June 17. The COVID-19 shutdowns unquestionably hurt many small businesses, but arbitrary reopening restrictions hit the female-dominated hair and nail industry particularly hard. The Ramirezes, survived, at least for now. Many others will not be so fortunate.
Government regulations should not hinder individuals’ economic liberty and stop them from finding work in their chosen professions.
In some instances, states have successfully relaxed health-industry regulations to solve shortages and meet needs. Rules limiting telemedicine access are on hold so more patients can get medical care from the safety of home. New York is accepting out-of-state doctors and nurses to meet the dire need for medical professionals in coronavirus hotspots. The FDA relaxed requirements for manufacturing hand sanitizer, allowing distilleries to help meet skyrocketing demand. And several states have temporarily relaxed Certificate of Need requirements that limit the supply of medical services.
States should look to these same strategies when it comes to healing the economy. By removing onerous barriers to entry in professions like cosmetology and nail services, more Americans, especially women, can support themselves and their families.
Owning and operating a small business may never be easy. But if states blow away burdensome barriers and arbitrary restrictions, many more women and small business owners will have the opportunity to try.
Erin Wilcox is an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents the Ramirezes in a lawsuit to prohibit the state from abusing emergency powers in the future.