February 5, 2020
By Mark Flatten

So you are looking for a new career, one that allows you to work anywhere in the country with a minimum of hassle.

Good luck with that.

About a fourth of all jobs in the United States require you to obtain a license from the state before you can ply the trade.

That means if you are just trying to break into the new career, you will have to make it through the bureaucratic maze of paperwork to get a license to do your job.

If you are already in one of the hundreds of licensed professions, you will need to obtain a new license every time you move from state to state. A license in one state rarely counts for much in another. Minimum requirements are typically different. So even though you may have years of experience in a given trade, you still may not qualify for another state’s license because you did not take the mandated number of hours of classroom training however long ago.

See below for a spreadsheet of professions that require licenses by state:

About 30 broadly defined professions require a license in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, most in the healthcare industry. Far more common are occupations that are licensed in only a few states, most of which have nothing to do with any public health concerns. As a result, the job you were happily doing in one state without government interference requires extensive and expensive licensing in another.

The argument made by advocates of occupational licensing is that it is needed to protect the public from incompetent, unscrupulous, or unqualified practitioners. That might make some sense for certain professions in the healthcare industry. Among the occupations that are licensed in every state are doctors, nurses, dentists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, pharmacists, and veterinarians.

But what about the people who cut your hair? Cosmetologists need a license to practice in every state. In fact, cosmetology related professions are among the most heavily regulated in the country, based on the number of different licenses required by the various states. There are licenses for cosmetologists and barbers. There are also separate licenses for estheticians who apply cosmetic skin creams, manicurists who trim your nails, shampoo assistants, hair braiders, and even people who apply makeup.

Getting a cosmetology license is no small task either. Six states require 2,000 hours or more of classroom training to qualify for a cosmetology license. Massachusetts and New York have the lowest educational requirements at 1,000 hours.

Holli Christensen owns a blow dry bar salon and is an expert at blow drying and styling hair. But Arizona regulations kept her from doing what she loves — until she teamed up with the Goldwater Institute to take action.

Cosmetology is not the only profession where the “health and safety” argument doesn’t seem to make much sense. Among the quirkier state licenses for seemingly humdrum jobs:

  • Horseshoers are licensed in Arkansas. Farriers, who do essentially the same job, are licensed in New York. Blacksmiths are licensed in Illinois. In Minnesota, equine teeth floaters, who file the sharp points off horses’ teeth, are licensed while Texas has a license for horse dental providers. Kentucky requires a license for an “approved horse seller.”
  • Florists are licensed in Louisiana and Idaho.
  • Beekeepers are licensed in Maine, North Carolina, and Rhode Island.
  • Motion picture operators are licensed in Massachusetts. So are theatrical booking agents and ticket resellers.
  • Chimney sweeps are licensed in Vermont.
  • Animals are regulated at both ends, from animal feed distributors in Michigan to commercial animal waste technicians in Minnesota and manure service representatives in Iowa. People who specialize in animals from conception to death also are licensed in various states, from artificial insemination technicians in Wyoming and New Mexico to dead animal dealers in Michigan.
  • If you are planning a night on the town, you are apt to need the services of a licensed professional. Aside from the cosmetologists to get you looking just right, you might come across a licensed wardrobe attendant in Illinois or a licensed parking valet in West Virginia, or a licensed magician in Nevada. To top the evening off, you can rest assured that if you are in North Carolina, you have the protection of a licensed frozen dessert inspector.
  • Sign installers are licensed in Arkansas, California, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Rhode Island. Door installers are licensed in California and New Mexico. California also licenses window coverings contractors.
  • Among the messier jobs that require a license are grease processors in Wisconsin, worm diggers in Maine and frog dealers in Minnesota.

As these nonsensical licenses illustrate, very few of the professions that are heavily regulated by the states pose any real threat to the public’s health and safety, the specter that is used to justify requiring a license. Truth is, they are put in place to protect the industry, not the public.

As the Goldwater Institute documented in a December 2017 investigative report, Protection Racket: Occupational Licensing Laws and the Right to Earn a Living, state licensing laws almost always come at the behest of the regulated industries themselves. Research studies cited in government reports show that by excluding the competition that newcomers would bring to the industries, existing practitioners can charge about 15 percent more for their services than they could if they were unlicensed. The reason is that the education, training, testing and licensing requirements all represent a barrier to entry into a profession. Without those requirements, more people could enter a given trade, increasing competition and thereby driving down prices.

If all of this makes you outraged, if it has you so mad you are literally breathing fire, don’t worry. Nevada has a license for that.

Mark Flatten is the National Investigative Journalist at the Goldwater Institute.

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