The Leaflet: States Consider Occupational Licensing Reform

Published March 16, 2017

In 2016, a U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down a North Carolina occupational licensing regulation that required a person be a licensed dentist to provide teeth-whitening services. This decision will likely have a ripple effect on other states’ occupational licensing programs.

Despite the court’s ruling, in North Carolina, licensing boards continue to regulate acupuncturists, alarm-systems professionals, athletic trainers, clinical perfusionists, foresters, laser-hair practitioners, employee-assistance professionals, irrigation contractors, interpreters, locksmiths, pastoral counselors, public librarians, and recreational therapists, among others.

Reut Rory Cohen, a contributing writer at Carolina Journal, explains in a recent article how occupational licensing works in the state. “Occupational licensing requirements require workers seeking to enter an occupation to pass industry-authorized tests, certify the completion of coursework from authorized providers, perform a number of hours of work as an apprentice, or some combination of the three,” wrote Cohen.

In a 2016 Reason Foundation article, Contributing Editor J.D. Tuccille argues occupational licensing reform is a massive problem that has become a bipartisan issue in many states. “That one-quarter of Americans require government permission to do their jobs has become such a problem for economic liberty and opportunity in this country that its recognition crosses party lines at a time when Republicans and Democrats agree on little else,” wrote Tuccille. “More importantly, efforts to actually correct the situation also transcend partisanship. Having purchased political support by imposing licensing laws that protect existing practitioners in a host of industries from competition, politicians seem to be realizing that they went way overboard and are killing the host on which they feed.”

Jesse Hathaway, managing editor of Heartland’s Budget & Tax News, argued in a recent article published by The Hill occupational licensing rules have little effect on public health or safety. “In other words, government permission slips don’t really protect people from receiving bad customer service,” wrote Hathaway. “So, if occupational licensing rules aren’t about protecting consumers, who do they protect? In 1952, fewer than 5 percent of all workers were required to obtain government permission to work in their chosen profession. In 2008, the government’s use of occupational licensing had expanded to ensnare about 29 percent of all workers.”

By eliminating these perverse policies, lawmakers can help people achieve their dreams, lower costs for consumers, and get more people back to work and out of entitlement programs. That’s a win for everybody.

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