The invisible wounds of occupational licensing
It’s not that cosmetologists have come around to embrace the idea of freedom from government interference. Those of us who have been around state government remember the day when a reported 25,000 of them surrounded intimidated Florida lawmakers who were about to try to “sunset” the state cosmetology board.
A particular area of focus has been the topic of hair braiding, a 5,000 year-old craft taught generally from one generation to the next. Many states had, and some still have, laws that require hair braiders to possess a license to practice cosmetology, even though they don’t cut, brush, apply heat or use chemicals on hair. It doesn’t require much capital to get started and, even with the strong legislative interference, has been a valuable skill for entrepreneurs – particularly African-American women.
Thankfully, a vast right-wing conspiracy that includes the Institute of Justice, the Buckeye Institute, Forbes magazine and others has been working on the hair-braiding issue for quite a while and is moving to take on the entire cosmetology empire.
Ohio addressed the hair-braiding issue in 1999, when our braiders were freed from mandatory training on the entire cosmetology syllabus. The number of training hours was reduced to 450 for a special hair-braiding license. Texas just last year eliminated its law requiring braiders to be trained as barbers. The training in most cases was expensive and irrelevant, in that little or often none of the coursework involved learning to braid hair. It is an archaic curriculum that arose out of the period of American history, which last until well after passage of the 19th Amendment, when only men were allowed to cut hair.
On average, a cosmetologist requires 1,555 hours of training and the cost of schools that provide this training varies from about $5,000 to over $20,000. In Ohio, every licensed hair salon also is required to have a person on site during all business hours with a “manager’s license,” which requires 2,000 hours of practice and 300 additional hours of training.
“Ohio is the only state in the nation that has a manager’s license and it’s the only industry I’m aware of that requires a manager’s license,” state Rep. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, said at a news conference to introduce her bill to strike the hair salon manager’s license requirement. She pointed out that even emergency medical technicians only have to undergo 150 hours of training in Ohio.
Excessive occupational licensing is a problem in every state of the union. When I was in grade school, only about 5 percent of jobs required a government license. The number today is closer to 25 or 30 percent. More than 1,100 occupations that require a government license in at least one state.
There may have been good reasons to create some of the earliest licenses, to ensure those working in public health, with high-voltage electricity and handling legal documents were competent and did not take advantage of public trust.
But public health and safety frequently are merely pretexts for the proliferation of licenses we see today. More often than not, licensing is initiated by those who want to erect barriers of entry to new business plans that may disrupt the market. The result is to harm consumers by crowding out competition.
These are invisible wounds to the economy that we can no longer afford. Hopefully, when the current sweepstakes to replace President Barack Obama gets serious enough for the candidates to put forward detailed plans to fix some of the nation’s less intractable problems, a genuine effort at occupational-licensing reform will be on their list.