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.

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  1. I like the article, but you seem confused about what an EMT is. The minimum required to be an EMT is very minimal indeed. 33 days sounds about right. Paramedics, on the other hand, usually have to take about 1500 hours of training, and usually have the equivalent of a associates degree.

    You can’t become a paramedic in 33 days.

    1. I don’t see where EMT and Paramedic are confused. EMTs have to deal with life & death situations. Interior designers do not. That’s the point.

      1. In the headline?

        1. Headline, schmedline ;-P

          But my point about the real point of EMTs vs. interior designers still stands.

          1. your point is correct. paramedics, or EMT-P’s receive far more training than EMT’s.

            as a firefighter, i used to be an EMT. i had nowhere NEAR the training that a paramedic has. paramedics, who i work with often, are like field doctors. they do a lot of stuff EMT’s can’t do, and frankly, if you have just suffered serious injury and aren’t in a hospital where there are tons of equipment , specialists, etc. you are way better off with a seasoned paramedic than your average (for example, general practice) MD or DO

            not even a close question

            1. “as a firefighter, i used to be an EMT”

              Seeing Hellfighters starring John Wayne doesn’t count.

          2. Agreed about the ‘real point’, and I wasn’t trying to distract from that issue.

      2. So, paramedics are kind of your civilian corpse-man?

    2. Most people outside the field use ‘paramedic’ and ‘EMT’ interchangably, Matt.

      1. This is like arguing the difference between “nerd” and “geek.” If you aren’t one, you don’t care.

        1. Being a guy who spent years doing borderline stupid things with a high level of risk, it sometimes becomes very important. EMTs can’t do much more than stop the bleeding and push the gurney. Paramedics are a lot handier to have around.

          1. it’s kind of typical of reason. it reminds me of lisa’ claims that the police dept. did X, when it was actually the police union that did x. i don’t care what people “outside the field do”. that doesn’t justify bad reporting.

            facts matter

            paramedic =/= EMT. again,i was an EMT, and i was nowhere near as well trained as a paramedic has to be.

            it’s just sloppy reporting.

            1. Confusing EMT and Paramedic is typical of pretty much all reporting. I’ve only recently become aware of the difference myself because I’ve joined a couple of cave and high angle rescue operations. One of the orgs requires First Responder training for all members, which is a step below EMT, even. (24 hours of training in my state)

    3. Fixed, and thanks for the heads up.

      1. Now maybe we can discuss the actual point of the article, which is the ridiculousness of licensing as evidenced by EMTs vs. interior designers.

      2. Really not that big of a deal. And now it’s fixed!

        Personally, I can see where these industries might want to set some kind of standards themselves (like AMA licensing?) but balk at any government role in most of them.

        If I want to pay you to cut my hair, there should be nobody in any government capacity standing between us.

        Tattoo artists are not generally licensed (but in some states, tattoo shops are?) and what they do is far more invasive than what a hair stylist (or EMT!) is licensed to do.

        None of it makes any sense…

        1. True story:

          In at least one state that I know of, the definition of “practice of medicine” is so broad/vague that they had to make a specific exception to allow people to get tattoos from someone who isn’t an MD.

          1. And you don’t even want to know how ugly the throwdown was between the MDs and the podiatrists over how much of the ankle a podiatrist was allowed to deal with.

    4. Even 33 days seems a bit short. I suppose it depends on how one defines “day”, but at least in New Mexico, I had to take a full semester of classes to qualify to be an EMT-Basic (the lowest rung of the ladder) and an additional 2 semesters worth of classes and practical hands-on work to qualify to be an EMT-Intermediate.

      EMT-Paramedic is, if I recall correctly, 3 more semesters on top of all of that.

      Though, yes, the articles main point, that there’s a licensing requirement for interior designers at all is ridiculous, is spot on.

  2. Lawyers and paralegals should be on that list.

  3. I am pursuing a certification as a pet dog trainer. It is totally voluntary and has nothing to do with the government, but it is an excellent marketing tool. I would drop the CCPDT in a New York minute if they ever decided to pursue government sanction of their certification and create entry barriers to the profession.

  4. 49 states license preschool teachers. So which state is suffering from a plague of pedophiles teaching preschool?

  5. Sounds like a plan to me dude. Wow.

  6. I’m an air conditioning contractor. The state licensing agency cares not one whit what quality my work is. They care about one thing, my license fee or if anyone without a license is performing work. Calls to them from customers to report defective products go unnoticed.

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