Occupational Licensing

California Democrats Kill Licensing Reform

Snubbing the working poor.


California Democrats prattle endlessly about helping the working poor, but their latest vote against a bill that would tangibly help financially struggling people shows that Democratic leaders are more interested in serving their real constituencies: state bureaucracies, unions and other interest groups that want to keep out the competition.

The latest example involves occupational-licensing reform. It's one of those rare issues that should have widespread bipartisan support. Think tanks on the left and right agree that burdensome and costly rules for getting a license to perform certain jobs (barbers, makeup artists, locksmiths, speech pathologists, funeral directors, etc.) make it inordinately difficult to enter the job market, especially for people of modest means.

The stated purpose of the rules, which often require hundreds of hours of training and thousands of dollars in coursework, is to promote public health and safety. But the rules often have little relevance to the job at hand, and they typically are promoted by unions and trade associations (and the politicians they support), who want to use the political system to increase prices and profits artificially. There's no evidence such barriers enhance safety.

One of the most notorious examples involves African-style hair-braiding, which is a natural process that doesn't involve the use of dyes or chemicals and doesn't even involve hair cutting. Yet in more than half of all states, these hair-braiders are required to get a cosmetology license to learn about things that are unrelated to braiding. As a result, many braiders are pushed into the underground economy.

In 1999, a federal court ruled that California's licensing requirements for hair-braiders were unconstitutional, because of that disconnect between the required training and the actual braiding process. The legislature responded by exempting hair-braiders from licensing laws. "It was forced into it by a federal lawsuit, but California has kept its regulatory mitts off of hair-braiders," said Paul Avelar, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, which had filed that lawsuit.

As these braiders have flourished in the ensuing 18 years, there have been no rash of health or safety problems. It's allowed people to offer their services publicly without worrying about sting operations, fines and arrests. It's been an unquestionably good thing for this one field—but what about the dozens of other fields still encumbered by Byzantine rules?

An IJ study from 2010 found that California had the seventh-most burdensome licensing regulations in the nation. Our state requires licenses for 62 low- to moderate-income professions. Only a handful of those were the target of Senate Bill 247.

Introduced by Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) and sponsored by the Pacific Legal Foundation, the bill would have repealed "the requirements for an individual to obtain a license to perform the following activities: fitting or selling hearing aids, locksmithing, barbering or the application of makeup, disposing of cremated human remains, and performing custom upholstery services," according to the Senate bill analysis. It would also have modified "the regulation of certain landscapers, tree service contractors and private investigators."

Pacific Legal Foundation made the obvious case:

Occupational licensing laws exist, in theory, to protect the public by requiring certain professions obtain a government license before legally working in California. However, many current licensing laws do little to protect the public and are an artificial barrier for middle class jobs. By lowering and repealing the barriers to entry for these professions, more Californians can earn a living doing what they want to do without government interference that does little to serve the public.

Opponents came from—you guessed it—a prominent union and trade groups that represent people who work in some of the fields affected by the reforms. The Hearing Healthcare Providers of California, for instance, defended current licensing requirements because "the proper fitting of a hearing aid requires close examinations of the ear into the canal, and that these devices can be extremely costly, consumers need the assurance that it is a licensed and qualified professional who is treating their hearing loss."

Seriously, we need a state licensing bureaucracy because fitting hearing aids involves examining the ear canal? There are plenty of ways to get trained for these jobs, and it's clear that much of the licensing process has little to do with proper training. The bill also was opposed by the California Nurses Association, which represents some public-sector nurses.

Nevertheless, the Senate committee rejected the bill on a 6-2 party-line vote, with only the two Republicans favoring it. The bill will still be considered by another committee, but is dead on arrival. The staff felt the bill was unnecessary because of the annual "sunset review" of the Department of Consumer Affairs, which functions to see if any regulations should be changed. Never mind that the review process is pro forma and rarely results in any regulatory rollbacks.

Apparently missing the whole point of the measure, the committee report opined: "It is unclear at this point why this bill seeks to eliminate occupational licensing laws that promote and protect the public." Well, the staff who wrote that sentence could have read the legislation or some of the reports its author cited for a clear rationale.

California has the nation's highest poverty rates, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau standard that includes cost-of-living factors. A good starting place to address that problem is to chip away at unnecessary barriers to work. Trade groups, however, recognize that the best way to inflate their members' pay is to raise the cost of entry for others—and the more fields regulated this way, the more it keeps poor people in the welfare lines.

"One out of every five Californians must receive permission from the government to work," explained a 2016 report from the state's official watchdog agency, the Little Hoover Commission. "What once was a tool for consumer protection, particularly in the healing arts professions, is now a vehicle to promote a multitude of other goals. These include professionalism of occupations, standardization of services, a guarantee of quality and a means of limiting competition among practitioners, among others."

Consider the freedom issue there too. We need to ask the government for permission to work?

The Little Hoover study found that the laws succeeded mainly in keeping "Californians from working, particularly harder-to-employ groups such as former offenders and those trained or educated outside of California, including veterans, military spouses and foreign-trained workers." The problem is particularly acute for ex-offenders who often are barred from entering a variety of fairly low-skill professions by licensing rules that forbid them from entering the market.

Such concerns prompted even the Democratic Obama administration to call for far-reaching licensing reforms, yet California's Democrats don't even seem to understand the point of such efforts. Or maybe they just won't let themselves understand the argument, given their political alliances. At any rate, they should at least stop pretending to care about the poor if they can't embrace simple, cost-free policies that get poor Californians working.

NEXT: Namibia President Warns About 'Fake News' While Taking Credit for High Press Freedom Ranking

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  1. “California Democrats prattle endlessly about helping the working poor, but their latest vote against a bill that would tangibly help financially struggling people shows that Democratic leaders are more interested in serving their real constituencies: state bureaucracies, unions and other interest groups that want to keep out the competition.”

    Why the surprise? The Liberal/Progressive impulse has always been primarily about the elevation of the ‘intellectual’ class to control of society. As such, the concerns of the Progressives with the working poor has always been to keep them under control. Once you understand that, much of what the Liberal/Progressive Left does makes a great deal more sense.

    1. That pretty much sums it up. If you can keep a good portion of your subjects poor and dependent on government, despite the fact their lot never seems to improve, you’ve got a built in voting block who will allow you to tinker with their lives endlessly in the hope that eventually the government will succeed.

      Whether that kind of governance is an “impulse,” as you state, or a conscience plan might be debatable. I personally believe it’s a plan born of the idea that people won’t make the “right” decisions for themselves and, therefore, must be shepherded through life by those that deem themselves “elites.” Progressive/liberal ideology isn’t a benign way of thinking, it’s a calculated plan designed to subjugate the masses and enrich those that implement it.

      1. I disagree, to an extent. There may be some groups who conciously plan this crap, but I think the vast majority simply accept the way of thinking that Progressivism infects them with and vote for buttinskiism at almost every opportunity because they have been brought up to value virtue signalling over results.

        Like most self-selected elites, the Progrssives would be hugely improved by a meeting with Madame Guillotine. But they aren’t actively evil, just parasitically poisonous.

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  2. Democrats only want the poor to vote for them. The poor should not do anything else, particularly become not poor!

  3. California Democrats: “The only way to help the poor is to create the socialist workers’ utopia!”

  4. If, as a legislator, you’ve offered a class of people protection from competition in their occupation, you can pretty much count on that class voting for you.
    See “Dills Act”, for example, signed by some slime ball who should have been put to pasture long ago.

    1. Dill Act is outrageous to be sure. Many categories representing those who in private sector wouldn’t want to be unionized. A significant number likely incompetent.

  5. Let’s just call it what it is – more racist misogyny against the 99% by the 1%-er white patriarchy. If you disagree, that just proves what a racist misogynistic 1%-er you are and your kind of hate speech needs to be shut down as an egregious abuse of free speech. Now let’s put on our masks and outfits, go block traffic and throw bricks through windows and assault people until these fascist thugs are silenced. That’s how this all works now, right?

  6. Maybe there should be license requirements to serve on a politician’s staff…or to be a politician period. Talk about a threat to public health and safety. California loves its ballot initiatives. Citizens need to get political licensing on the ballot.

  7. They are protecting the poor, who are poor because they are stupid, from being preyed upon by evil capitalists who lack proper certification. By requiring permission to engage in certain trades, the poor are assured that they will not get ripped off or receive inferior services. Without government permission slips, predatory capitalists will plunder the poor. Duh.

  8. California Democrats Kill Licensing Reform

    … and water wet, details at 11.

    When will that Progtardtopia of a state finally fall off into the Pacific?

  9. Don’t be fooled into thinking Republicans are anti-licensing.

    It’s just a little show. Republicans would not have filed this if they were in the majority. (cf. Obamacare)

  10. Pretty remarkable how California’s poverty rates are as horrible as they are in spite of being such a blue state. Or maybe it’s because of that…

  11. Somebody has to fund schools as sanctuaries – – – – – – –
    May as well be license fees.
    So secede already!

  12. Immigrant communities tend to just ignore the licensing requirements. As we await my wife’s eldest son and his family’s approval from ICE, the things I am planning for include Green Cards, SSN Cards, Driver’s licenses, and professional licenses. My wife assures me they will be working before all that.

  13. Killing America’s great success story of individual freedom and prosperity one regulation after the other. There is no doubt that; that is the goal of the modern-day left.

    1. Individual freedom = the right to flood the employment market so that one’s labor market value is in the toilet.

      1. Only an self-concerning issue – UNTIL you end up having to pay for someone Else’s wages that are certainly NOT in the toilet! Free-market is the only market that auto-balances itself out with REALITY. I’ll be sure to bring up your “toilet wages” when you’re paying a plumber $40/hr to install a toilet.

  14. I can understand the need for funeral directors to have training and a license. If they didn’t know what they are doing, they could kill one of their clients.

  15. In 1978, Milton Friedman gave a talk to physicians at the Mayo Clinic about the need to end state licensing, starting with the licensing of doctors.

    If a logical, cogent, convincing argument can be made that doctors don’t need licensing, which occupations do?

    1. That was a ridiculous idea.

  16. All occupational licensing is a form of “protectionism”. “Protection of the general public” is always the claim. The truth is that the objective is always to “prevent competition” so that one can charge higher prices for the service in question. This idea underlies every occupational organization that has ever existed. The same principle applies to labor unions which are an attempt to limit the supply of available labor so that the employer has to pay more to obtain workers. Or civil service rules, which are also a way to limit both the supply of labor and limit what options the employer has.

    1. So would you like to go to unlicensed physician?

      As for the labor unions, they were an integral reason why the capitalist system in post-war America thrived, as it allowed for a healthy level of income distribution. Labor unions for mostly lost their power, and now the working class considers our capitalist system to be broken.

      1. “would you like to go to unlicensed physician?” — YES, YES! I would most definitely; especially since it would most likely be 1/2 the price or even way less than that.

        You just as well have asked, “Would you like to buy from Walmart or “Liscensed” Oscar De La Renta?” with a price difference of $3,200 per shirt?

        Choice is ALWAYS the best answer in any market. The incompetent always develop a bad name and go out of business or get sued out of business. How’s an incompetent physician any different than an incompetent manufacturer that builds faulty heavy equipment that kills people?

        Licensing rarely has any practical value these days in competency and is generally ( especially in the medical industry ) just used to BLOCK out competition and raise prices.

  17. The purpose of these occupational licenses is two fold. One to collect revenue and two to discourage an underground, mostly unreported cash economy. Public safety may have some distant relevance but is not the bureaucrats prime motivation by a long shot. I don’t entirely object if it were a deterrent to undocumented workers and entitlement program double dipping. But, “public safety”, please.

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  20. While I agree that some required training programs are overwrought, there should be some minimal level of competency. But yes, “sting” operations for folks doing stuff on the side are ridiculous, but then again, such folks should not be able to advertise out in the open.

  21. My wife is a licensed cosmetologist though not in Cali. She said in the schools teach her trade, they still teach finger waving which has been out of style for 30 years.

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