It Takes 10 Times More Educational Hours to Cut Hair Than to Be an EMT*, and Other Horrifying Truths About Occupational Licensing


Here's a horrifying fun fact about occupational licensing: "States consider an average of 33 days of training and two exams enough preparation for EMTs, but demand 10 times the training—372 days, on average—for cosmetologists." 

That data point comes from the Institute for Justice's massive new report on occupational licensing laws: why they exist, what kind of damage they do, and what can be done to keep them from killing any more jobs. 

Aspects of IJ's report will make your jaw drop. See, for instance, its ranking of occupations in order of most-to-least onerous licensing requirements

The chart goes all the way to 102, and includes city bus driver ($92, 86 hours of education/work experience), parademic ($85, 33 hours), and municipal animal control officer ($116, 4 hours), all of which fields have laxer licensing requirements than interior designer. 

Why the barriers to entry? IJ has that answer as well: 

Occupational practitioners, often through professional associations, use the power of concentrated interests to lobby state legislators for protection from competition though licensing laws.  Such anti-competitive motives are typically masked by appeals to protecting public health and safety, no matter how facially absurd.  For example, the 2011 legislative session in North Carolina saw efforts to license music therapists.  The enabling legislation's introduction stated:  "The North Carolina Music Therapy Practice Act is established to safeguard the public health, safety, and welfare…"22

Similarly, the American Society of Interior Designers has waged a 30-year campaign in state legislatures seeking greater regulation of its industry, including occupational licensure.23  The cornerstone of its argument is the alleged threat to public health and safety from unlicensed interior design, yet time and again industry lobbyists have failed to produce actual evidence of consumer harm.  State agencies have similarly been unable to document a need for licensing interior designers, and such claims of harm have also failed independent scrutiny.24

While the interior designer lobby has not enjoyed widespread success, it has managed to impose the most substantial average barriers documented in this report in three states and the District of Columbia (as well as less intrusive forms of regulation in a handful of other states).  And the irrationalities highlighted here suggest that lobbies in other occupations have met with greater success.

Once practitioners enjoy the benefits of a sheltered occupation, they seldom let it go without a fight.  It took multiple years and two separate lawsuits to force legislators in Louisiana, the only state to license florists, to merely reduce the licensure requirements.  In the process, representatives from the florist industry fought hard against any changes to the law.  The head of the state florist association argued that the licensure regime protected consumers by upholding high professional standards.  The head of the state horticulture commission agreed:  "If they [aspiring florists] can't take the instruction and pass the exam, how can they do an arrangement that you and I want to buy?"25

Such arguments fly in the face of common sense—how do consumers manage in the other 49 states and D.C.?—as well as research demonstrating that Louisiana's licensing scheme in fact did nothing to improve the quality of floral arranging.26  Nonetheless, Louisiana remains the only state to license florists, albeit with substantially less burdensome entry requirements.

Read the complete "License to Work" package, or watch this summary video: 

*The hed originally read "paramedic," which is not the same thing as an EMT.