They are at their most pernicious when they are both needless and most burdensome to the middle class, the working class, and recent immigrants to a society. The IJ report focuses its attention on these cases, surveying 102 lower-income occupations across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It concludes that “most of the 102 occupations are practiced in at least one state without state licensing and apparently without widespread harm.” In other words, dropping many of those requirements likely wouldn’t do any harm. Just 23 of the occupations surveyed are licensed in at least 40 states. Their online dataset helpfully allows anyone to search occupations per their interests. I learned that all 50 states license barbers while just 13 license bartenders.
To be a florist in Louisiana, the only state to regulate them, one must take an exam and pay $189. Seven different jurisdictions require a license to be a tree trimmer. California demands that tree trimmers have four years experience, pay $529, and take two exams; Maryland requires two years of training and one year of experience.
To underscore the irrationality of various requirements, IJ compares them to people charged with saving the lives of their fellow humans during emergencies:
EMTs hold lives in their hands, yet 73 other occupations have greater average licensure burdens: barbers and cosmetologists, home entertainment installers, interior designers, log scalers, manicurists and numerous contractor designations … while the average cosmetologist must complete 386 days of training, the average EMT must complete a mere 34. Even the average tree trimmer must complete more than 16 times the amount of education and experience.
Texas requires licenses for 37 occupations studied in the report. Said Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, concurring in a 2015 case that struck down occupational licensing requirements for people engaged in eyebrow threading:
As today’s case shows, the Texas occupational licensure regime, predominantly impeding Texans of modest means, can seem a hodge-podge of disjointed, logic-defying irrationalities, where the burdens imposed seem almost farcical, forcing many lower-income Texans to face a choice: submit to illogical bureaucracy or operate an illegal business? Licensure absurdities become apparent when you compare the wildly disparate education/experience burdens visited on various professions. The disconnect between the strictness of some licensing rules and their alleged public-welfare rationale is patently bizarre.
Too often, occupational-licensing laws are less about protecting workers or consumers as a class than they are about protecting the interests of incumbents. Want to compete with me? Good luck, now that I’ve lobbied for a law that requires you to shell out cash and work toward a certificate before you can begin.