The poor manicurist was fined $1,000 for the heinous act of cleansing heads without being licensed as a “shampoo technician.” Yes, in Tennessee, you must first obtain government’s permission before washing hair. And you have to obtain a license to do 110 other jobs as well.
Occupational licensing is out of control. As if requiring government approval to practice a trade wasn’t bad enough, most licensing schemes come with expensive entry fees, unnecessary tests, and sometimes even schooling. Of course, this makes sense for doctors and lawyers, but these rules even apply to you if you want to be a makeup artist, locksmith, massage therapist, or “milk sampler” (whatever that is).
The cost of getting a job
Many occupations that necessitate a license are considered low- or moderate-income jobs. Tennessee requires a license for 53 such occupations, more than 41 other states. The average cost to obtain a license for these jobs is $218, with more than seven months of training in advance.
Makeup artists, for example, must spend $190, spend 175 days in school, and take two exams before picking up the eyeliner. Shampoo technicians must spend 70 days in the classroom (amounting to about $3,000 in tuition costs), take two exams, and fork over $140 for a license. For many Tennesseans seeking to enter these fields, licensing schemes put these jobs out of reach.
All this for what?
Proponents of licensing laws claim they are necessary to protect consumers. Yet, the vast majority of licensed trades have absolutely no relation to health, safety, and welfare. For example, according to the Institute for Justice, “the average cosmetologist spends 372 days in training; the average EMT only 33.” You read that right. It takes 10 times longer to be approved to cut hair than to save someone’s life.
Most licensing laws harm consumers by driving up prices and limiting their choices. That’s why these laws are often proposed and lobbied for by those already in a given occupation. They are a great way to use the heavy hand of government to limit oneself from competition.
Rather than impose costly and harmful licensing laws on Tennesseans just seeking to earn an honest living, we should reward them for wanting to work hard and provide for their family. That’s what the Right to Earn a Living Act would do, slated to be heard in the legislature this week. The bill would require a review of all existing licensing schemes, make it harder to enact new ones, and give those harmed by licensing laws the opportunity to challenge their necessity. For Tennesseans like the manicurist who is $1,000 poorer because she touched someone’s hair, the Right to Earn a Living Act is long overdue.
My Comment: I am pleased to see this initiative. I am not one who thinks just anyone should be allowed to claim to be a doctor or a lawyer. I want my doctor and attorney to be licensed. Maybe even the beautician who deals with harsh chemicals should be licensed; but, the girl who washes your hair? The purpose of many license seems to serve no other purpose than to protect those who are already in the business from competition. I think there should be a top-to-bottom review of every professional license issued by the state. There should be hearing and a determination of these three things: (1) Is this license justified, (2) if it is, is the amount of educations required appropriate or excessive, and (3) if someone is licensed in another state should we honor that license. I also think that every license program of the state should have a sunset provision and be reevaluated every so often to see if the license is still appropriate.
Back in 1980 when I was elected to serve in the Metro Council, one of the first issues with which I was confronted was a bill to repeal the licensing requirement for movie theater projectionist. I know 1980 seems like a long time ago, but even by 1980 multiplex cinemas was the norm and a "projectionist" job was to insert the videotape cassette into the machine. Yet, Metro had a requirement that each theater screen have a projectionist. At one time I assume being a projectionist was a skilled job and there was a risk of fire associated with running a movie projector. Times changed and yet the unions heavily lobbied the Council to try and stop the Council from repealing the law that required a licensed projectionist operate each movie projector. The Council did repeal that requirement but it was not unanimous.
Professional license has less to do with protecting the public than it does protecting those already in the field from competition. We have some current ridiculous examples of unnecessary license requirements. We have immigrants from African countries who do traditional African hair weaving, but in Tennessee they are breaking the law if they do that without a license.