August 8, 2019
By Megan Hauck

Members of the military defend our freedoms every day, but they and their families are often not free to pursue the careers of their choice as they move between states. That’s because state occupational licensing laws force many of them to seek out a government permission slip to work in their chosen field every time they relocate—and it’s time this hurdle was taken down.

Goldwater Institute Director of National Litigation Jon Riches recently joined the podcast series, The US at Work, to talk about how occupational licensing affects military families and what is being done to eliminate barriers to their employment. Historically, occupational licenses were required for very few professions, such as doctors and lawyers—professions that plainly involved public health or safety. But licensing regimes have expanded to industries unrelated to health and safety—like hairdressing, floristry, and even auctioneering. In 1950, states licensed 5 percent of all jobs; today, 25 to 30 percent of occupations require a state license. 

Many of these arbitrary regulations can disproportionately affect military families. Military families are often called to pack up and move at unpredictable times in response to breaking national security needs. While on active duty, it’s common for them to move every two to three years, and every time one of these moves takes place, military spouses must undergo financially taxing and time-consuming re-licensing processes every time they cross state lines. While the national unemployment rate hovers around its lowest rate in 50 years, Riches emphasizes that “military spouses still have unemployment rates that range in the neighborhood of 30 percent”, indicating that licensing regulations are having harsh effects on America’s military families.

Riches and the Goldwater Institute are calling attention to this situation through litigation and legislation. This past April, Arizona became the first state in the nation to pass a law recognizing out-of-state occupational licenses, which will help streamline Americans’ ability to continue working once they move to the Grand Canyon State. Additionally, in 2017, the Goldwater Institute supported the Right to Earn a Living Act, which restricts agencies when creating new licensing standards. These initiatives allow military spouses to enter the Arizona workforce quickly and avoid unnecessary red tape.

A former JAG officer and current Navy reserve member, Riches understands the value military family members can provide to employers. Military spouses are “tremendous assets”, he says, because they’re remarkably resilient individuals and employees. Additionally, modern technologies are making it easier to work remotely, therefore creating new opportunities for mobile workers. This means that employers need not fear hiring military spouses that may be required to move. As the job market changes to adapt to remote employment, it is critical that regulations transform as well.

Riches calls on state governments to lower licensing barriers, on employers to seek military spouses when hiring, and on society at large to recognize the value of military employees. State governments should not impede employment opportunities for citizens that already make incredible sacrifices to defend this country.

You can listen to the full podcast here.

Megan Hauck is a Ronald Reagan Fellow at the Goldwater Institute.

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