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Labor Department Launches New Licensing Tool for Military Spouses

It's no substitute for abolishing unnecessary licenses, but the effort to ease the burden on military families should call attention to this issue.

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/NewscomBill Clark/CQ Roll Call/NewscomMilitary spouses are 10 times more likely to move across state borders in any given year than the average American. They often face a particularly galling problem when they do: obtaining a new license for a job they were already doing.

This problem is not unique to military families, and it's a good argument for lowering licensing barriers across the board. But the frequency with which licensing disrupts employment opportunities for military spouces—35 percent of whom work in fields requiring a state permission slip, according to the American Legion—has made it an easy target for licensing reformers.

While most licensing reforms are state-level matters, this one can benefit from the involvement of the federal government. Indeed, the Obama and Trump administrations both deserve credit for working to ease the licensing burdens facing military spouses. The latest effort, announced this week by the Department of Labor, is a professional license and credential finder portal. The website offers a one-stop shop for information about state licensing requirements and details on which states will accept licenses from elsewhere.

"States should act to remove excessive regulatory barriers to work, so that our military spouses can help support their families," Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta said in a statement. "This new site highlights states' efforts to help military spouses secure good, family-sustaining jobs."

While it's no replacement for state-level efforts to reduce licensing burdens or to accept licenses from other states as valid, the website is yet another sign of the ongoing bipartisan push towards easing workers' ability to move from place to place.

As part of a 2017 feature for Reason, I told the story of Karla Mettling, whose husband Daniel was a colonel in the U.S. Army at the time. Prior to being relocated to Georgia in 2016, Mettling had worked as a social worker in Virginia. But Virginia's licensing requirements didn't match up perfectly with what Georgia required, so she was left with a difficult choice after the move.

"You had to work in the state, full-time, for three years," Mettling told me. That wasn't going to be possible with her husband in the Army, where relocations are likely to happen every two to four years, on average. "After so many moves, sometimes you think, well, how much is this really worth to me?" she said.

Licensing laws also restrict economic opportunity for people who aren't being moved by the military. In a 2016 study, the Brookings Institution identified a gap in migration rates between states with high licensing burdens and those with lower licensing burdens. Two labor economists at the University of Minnesota used that data to conclude last year that more than 100,000 workers are passing up the opportunity to move each year, losing out on between $178 million and $711 million they could have collectively earned.

Janna Johnson and Morris Kleiner, those two Minnesota economists, suggested that states increase the number of licensing reciprocity agreements, like the ones that allow lawyers to practice across state lines with limited relicensing costs. That's something the Federal Trade Commission has been encouraging states to consider as well.

A number of states are doing just that, at least for military families. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, as part of a sweeping licensing overhaul proposed last month, called for greater licensing reciprocity for military spouses. "We must cut the red tape, reduce the bureaucracy and ensure overly burdensome rules and fees do not block hardworking people—especially our military spouses—from getting a good job, supporting their families and growing our economy," said Wolf, a Democrat.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, another Democrat, has similarly highlighted the role of military spouses while calling for sweeping licensing reforms in Louisiana.

Reciprocity agreements are not a substitute for the elimination of unnecessary licenses that do little to protect public safety. But the ongoing effort to reform licensing laws for military families could be an opening for a broader reform effort. The Department of Labor's new efforts is a modest step towards that larger goal.

Photo Credit: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

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  • lafe.long||

    "Spouces"?

  • Echo Chamber||

    Race to the bottom!

  • Jerryskids||

    Last time I checked, the military was government employees. So we're creating special privileges for government employees? What a refreshingly novel idea!

  • Citizen X||

    No, we're creating special privileges for spouses of government employees. It's totally different!

  • LarryA||

    Actually it's a privilege for spouses of military government employees. It wouldn't have helped my wife while the Veterans Administration was moving me every year or two. Luckily she's a newspaper reporter, and so far they aren't licensed.

    OTOH a law for military spouses at least opens up the idea. Other government and non-government workers can say, "Hey! Why can't I do that?" and push for a more general law.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Umm, the whole point of the article is that the military spouse is looking for employment. So, the spouse is most definitely not a government employee.

  • Jerryskids||

    Umm, I'm not sure how you think having the government set up special rules that make it easier for your spouse to get a job if you're a government employee doesn't qualify as a privilege for you based on the fact that you're a government employee.

  • ||

    It's almost like when civil libertarians say they want marriage equality for all and open borders they're either lying to themselves or everyone.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Umm, so the government can never do anything to improve anyone's life by increasing their freedoms, such as the right to work, unless they always solve the problem for everybody.

    They do something incremental in the direction of liberty, so we libertarian need to pick it apart.

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    Um the website worked for me and I have no DOD affiliation. So it's a tool for anyone with that need.

  • ||

    Um the website worked for me and I have no DOD affiliation.

    As in you acquired a license in another state or you didn't get a 404 error when you browsed to it?

    It is worth noting a bit in response (but not exactly refutation) to Jerryskids' comment that the reciprocity privileges are/were granted independent of the website.

  • Rossami||

    The VA is also a special privilege for the subset of government employees who put their lives on the line for their country. So are the GI Bill, federal hiring preferences and the entire post exchange system.

    Personally, I'm okay with that. They earned it.

  • JoeBlow123||

    Most military do not put their lives on the line, straight up. Most are pencil pushers like myself with the sometimes moderate possibility we may be sent into a warzone (which we signed up for) and who sometimes have jobs that might be moderately dangerous (like working on a flight deck on an aircraft carrier or repairing some shit that might electrocute you).

    And people should not need this kind of bullshit to want to stay in.

    That being said, this should be something that is allowed for everyone to benefit in, not just military spouses.

  • Rossami||

    You are missing the point, I suspect deliberately. When you enlist, you may express a preference for a job (MOS) and duty assignment but you are subject to assignment based on the needs of the service. By signing up, you are putting your life on the line even if you never end up within a thousand miles of combat.

    And, no, those who serve don't "need" perks like this to stay in - but I have no problem offering them the perks at all.

  • JoeBlow123||

    It happens way too often. As someone who works in the Navy I find it embarrassing how much has been done to bend over backwards for military and military spouses. Too much has been done to funnel resources and special perks to military people imho and it keeps the wrong types in who eventually rank up and complain for more privileges.

  • Citizen X||

    Tool For Military Spouses is my nickname down at the Navy pier right after a ship leaves.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    So .... a handy man.

  • Bubba Jones||

    You seem to have lost sight of the purpose of these licenses. Prevent competition.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Is there any reason these websites should be restricted to government spouses?

  • ||

    It isn't. And the site makes it more clear than Boehm does; most states offer reciprocity pending review, some offer temporary reciprocity to veterans/spouses pending review, etc.

    So, it's open to all, but veterans and their spouses are going to need and get the most benefit both because of the laws passed and that the website is designed to reflect the law.

  • JoeBlow123||

    Ahh thats good to know.

  • Longtobefree||

    "Two labor economists at the University of Minnesota used that data to conclude last year that more than 100,000 workers are passing up the opportunity to move each year, losing out on between $178 million and $711 million they could have collectively earned."

    So using the logic that says totally intrastate commerce affects interstate commerce and can be regulated by the feds, those people should owe income tax on the money they did not make.

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