A new Institute for Justice report titled Barriers to Braiding details the various occupational licensing rules that affect African hair braiders. The report shows that licensing African hair braiders has real-world costs—and no public safety benefits.
African hair braiding is a natural process of caring for hair that does not require scissors, heat, or chemicals. Yet, despite its substantial differences from cosmetology, 16 states still force African hair braiders to go through onerous, time-consuming cosmetology training programs. Getting a cosmetology license takes between 1,000 and 2,100 hours to complete and costs thousands of dollars.
Though cosmetology courses teach students how to cut and use chemicals on hair, a possible justification for some sort of licensing scheme, these skills are entirely unrelated to African hair braiding. This type of braiding is not even taught in cosmetology schools.
The District of Columbia and 14 states require specific licenses for hair braiders that are separate from cosmetology licenses. These licenses come with mandated training that takes between six hours and 600 hours, depending on the state.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are 20 states that do not require any licensing for African hair braiders (two have a simple registration system). The stated justifications behind occupational licensing schemes are always steeped in concerns for public safety. But if African hair braiding posed legitimate safety concerns, why are states with no training requirements not experiencing increased levels of braiding-related injuries or death? (Hint: because it is completely safe).
The full breakdown of hours of training and type of license required by state can be seen in the figure below:
The requirements to braid hair are completely out of line with the risks posed to the public. Among the states that make African hair braiders acquire a cosmetology license, the amount of training required is between three and 19 times greater than the hours necessary to become licensed as an emergency medical technician—a job that deals with life and death situations.
It should come as no surprise that these requirements create high barriers to entry. Data from 12 states and the District of Columbia show that the more training states require, the fewer people relative to states' black populations are professional braiders.
To highlight one example from the table, Mississippi mandates no training and had over 1,245 registered braiders in 2012. Neighboring Louisiana requires over 500 hours of training and, even though it has a larger black population, had only 32 licensed braiders in 2012.
As Diana Furchtgott-Roth and I chronicle in our book Disinherited: How Washington Is Betraying America's Young, these barriers to work have real-world consequences. When writing the book, we spoke to Melony Armstrong, the subject of the documentary Locked Out: A Mississippi Success Story. She recounted the six-year struggle she faced to work as an African hair braider.
After being forced to comply with numerous government-imposed hurdles, Melony filed a lawsuit against Mississippi to free herself and other hair braiders from the state's excessive licensing requirements. In April 2005, after a hard fight in the state legislature, Mississippi governor Haley Barbour freed hair braiders to practice their trade without the burdensome, pointless regulations. Now, all that is required to be a hair braider is a $25 payment and compliance with Mississippi's health and hygiene codes. As IJ's data show, there were thousands of people who followed Melony's example and registered to work as African hair braiders in Mississippi.
Occupational licensing is a common way to keep people out of work. Countless occupations, from handymen to interior designers, face barriers to work that do little to protect public safety. IJ's report shows that states with extensive licensing requirements should simply allow African hair braiders to work. And to anyone worried about public safety, I challenge you to find one incident of death by braiding.