April 9, 2019

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about the need for occupational licensing reform in a speech to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Watch the video clip here.

With its emphasis on lessening the bureaucratic burden on countless professions, reforming occupational licensing laws has become a popular cause among conservatives and libertarians. But is one of the country’s most prominent Democratic figures—and possible 2020 presidential candidate—a not-so-secret advocate for occupational licensing reform?

In a speech Friday to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the former Vice President told the audience, “You know, if you are a hair braider—you braid people’s hair? You have to get a license—to do something like 400 hours of training in another state to move in to be able to braid hair.” Such onerous training requirements, he continued, are “all about not helping the worker.”

Biden is completely correct: Some occupations face licensing requirements that are nothing short of ridiculous, with these overly burdensome requirements having the effect of harming workers and their job prospects. Requiring hair braiders to be licensed has nothing to do with protecting the public’s health or safety—valid reasons for requiring such certification—and everything to do with adding another layer of government red tape where none is needed.

The hair braiding profession is a great example of regulations gone wild, but it’s hardly the only one. Take blow-dry stylists: In every state but Virginia, these stylists are required to obtain a license in order to work in a blow-dry salon. Keep in mind: They don’t do anything to permanently alter the structure of hair. Rather, they use hairbrushes and hairdryers, the same tools that millions of Americans use in their homes every day. But blow-dry stylists are forced to commit a lot of money and a lot of hours to get the license they need to do their jobs. In their new report on the overregulation of these salon employees, the Goldwater Institute’s Jenna Bentley and Christina Sandefur write that “blow-dry stylists must undergo a minimum of 1,000 hours of training to learn procedures they do not perform: cutting, permanent waving, singeing, bleaching, dyeing, and tinting hair.”

People across the political spectrum are seeing that many of the requirements people are forced to adhere to in order to work in the job of their choice is just plain nonsensical. Back in 2015, the Obama administration issued a report encouraging state-level occupational licensing reform. As the Goldwater Institute’s Mark Flatten pointed out in a 2017 report on licensing laws, the Obama administration’s report “warned occupational licensing is often unnecessary, creates a drag on the economy, and blocks people from getting good jobs.” And this week, Arizona is expected to become the first state to recognize out-of-state occupational licenses, which will make it easier for new Arizona residents who have just moved there from another state to continue in their career without interruption—this bill passed the state House and Senate with bipartisan support.

Biden has long positioned himself as a supporter of working-class America, as a politician on the side of labor. Kudos to him for recognizing that truly being on American workers’ side demands doing away with unnecessary limitations on their ability to earn a living.

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