While the coronavirus pandemic has brought devastation to many parts of our economy, some states have been making it easier for Americans to work. Occupational licensing reform is badly needed as many licenses are either not necessary or have onerous requirements. While of course professionals like doctors and nurses should be licensed, it shouldn’t be hard for them to move between states, a fact that many states recognized and loosened their requirements in order to allow relief medical personnel to quickly travel to support coronavirus hot spots this spring. Other professions, such as dog masseuses or florists, certainly shouldn’t be required to obtain licenses. This year, many states have been working to make it easier to transfer licenses between states or taking away license requirements from occupations that don’t need them to protect public health and safety.  

One big step is universal recognition of occupational licenses. In Iowa, Missouri, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado, state legislatures passed universal recognition laws. This means that individuals who are already licensed in other states will not need to undergo additional education or training in order to obtain a license in these states. This is incredibly important as individuals who are already trained professionals should not be required to undergo unnecessary and expensive training in order to continue practicing their profession. 

Wisconsin and Mississippi, while not allowing universal recognition for all individuals, did pass such legislation for military spouses. This will help military spouses who move frequently due to the natural cycle of changing stations for military members. In addition, Mississippi expanded it’s occupational licensing review commission that started in 2017 to include a review of existing occupational licensing legislation. While we have yet to see results come from this commission, it is a promising step to rolling back unnecessary license requirements. 

Iowa, on top of passing a universal licensing recognition, provided a pathway for individuals who were not licensed to obtain a license in the state. If a professional had at least three years of experience working in their field in another state, they could still obtain a license in Iowa. Since licensing requirements and even the occupations licensed vary widely between states, this will help professionals who clearly already know how to do their job avoid unnecessary and expensive training. 

The Hawkeye state has also made it easier for low-income individuals to obtain licenses. The state waives the initial application and background check fees for state residents whose household income is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. This step breaks down barriers for many individuals to pursue professions that provide steady income. 

Finally, Florida loosened or removed occupational licensing requirements for more than 30 different professions. Included in these professions are interior designers, hair braiders, and boxing match timekeepers. Dieticians and nutritionists will also be able to provide tips about healthy eating to individuals looking to improve their diets. This excludes any individuals under the direct care of a physician for medical reasons and it is important that a nutritionist in a medical setting has undergone specific training. 

At IWF, we’ve highlighted the stories of individuals who faced barriers to work or overcome obstacles through our Chasing Work series. These include nurses and doctors who were able to provide relief in areas struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic as well as interior designers, such as Robin Stroebel and Melissa Destree, nutrition coaches, massage therapists, personal trainers and more. 

Overall, between 2015 and 2020, the number of occupational licensing reforms have jumped from 8 to 35. States are recognizing that many of their requirements are not necessary to protect the health and safety of their residents and only create barriers to opportunities for good jobs in the state. While it is sometimes difficult to find things to celebrate in 2020, we should certainly celebrate these occupational licensing reforms and encourage other states to follow these leaders.