Policy Documents

License to Work: A National Study of Burdens from Occupational Licensing

Dick M. Carpenter II, Lisa Knepper, Angela C. Erickson and John C. Ross –
May 1, 2012

An “occupational license” is, put simply, government permission to work in a particular field. To earn the license, an aspiring worker must clear various hurdles, such as earning a certain amount of education or training or passing an exam. In the 1950s, only one in 20 U.S. workers needed the government’s permission to pursue their chosen occupation. Today, that figure stands at almost one in three.

This study is the first to examine the scope of licensing laws for low- and moderate-income occupations across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as the first to measure how burdensome those laws are for aspiring workers.

In documenting the license requirements for 102 occupations nationwide, this report finds that these laws can pose substantial barriers for those seeking work, particularly those most likely to aspire to these occupations—minorities, those of lesser means and those with less education. Moreover, about half the occupations studied offer the possibility of entrepreneurship, suggesting that these laws hinder both job attainment and creation.