In what’s a growing phenomenon, governments are increasingly demanding permission slips for citizens to work. Currently, more than 800 occupations are licensed in the U.S., one in four workers now needs a license to make a living, and Texas is no safe-haven from the practice–it’s one of the nation’s biggest offenders.
Occupational regulation, which includes registration, certification, and licensing, creates burdens for aspiring entrepreneurs and workers, forcing them into a certain amount of education, specialized training, exams, age requirements, fees, and more.
Proponents of these restrictions claim they ensure safety standards are met in the interest of protecting the public. While it’s arguable that these measures should be in place for professions with high degrees of special skill, or where consumers risk great harm from incompetence, it can be hardly said that these justifications apply to travel guides, shampooers, or locksmiths.
In Washington D.C. a person wanting to give tours of the national monuments must first obtain a tour guide license from the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs after paying three separate $200 fees, submitting a time-consuming application, and passing a 100-question examination. Unlicensed tour guides run the risk of being fined up to $300 and imprisoned up to 90 days.
The Lone Star State is no stranger to absurd occupational licensing. Recent legislative sessions have seen debates over licensing interior designers and eyebrow threaders.
For those occupations Texas chooses to regulate, the educational requirements tend to be higher than the national average. Average licensing fees in Texas come out to $304, and range from $45 for locksmiths to $4,800 for commercial fishermen. While Texans can prove their life-saving skills as an emergency medical technician in just 33 days, massage therapists need 117 days of training and barbers must spend an extraordinary 350 days learning to cut hair.
The burden placed on aspiring workers translates into a 14 percent increase in hourly wages in the professions that participate. Research shows that these restrictive rules are typically sought by insiders and existing practitioners to protect their market shares and earnings. Additionally, by restricting the labor supply, license requirements can stifle competition and actually reduce quality since their businesses endure less competitive pressure.
Rather shockingly, even the Obama White House is calling for reform, issuing a report on licensing that attributed almost two-thirds of the increase in state-licensed workers to newly adopted licensing laws. The same conclusions pertaining to industry self-interest were reached in a policy paper published by then-Attorney General Greg Abbott in 2014. While campaigning for governor, Abbott called for reform of regulations impacting Texas workers.
Professions targeted for reform include: Interior Designer, Salvage Vehicle Dealer, Dog Trainer, Coach, Auctioneer, Barber, Cosmetologist, and Towing/Boot Operator.
Further encouragement for reformers came this summer when delegates to the Texas Republican Party Convention reinforced the need to abolish many licenses and reform the entire licensing process. Meanwhile the Texas Supreme Court made its voice clear on the issue as well by striking down the onerous licensing requirement imposed on eyebrow-threaders and providing strong judicial bolstering of Texas’ constitutional right to economic liberty.
As conservative lawmakers come to Austin and look for reforms there are few better changes than cutting regulations. Doing so would automatically shrink the size of government and unleash the power of the private sector to create jobs and economic growth.
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