Getting the Government’s Permission to Work

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

The Institute for Justice has published an important new study on the economic impact of licensing laws.

As a new report issued today by the Institute for Justice discusses, more and more Americans now need the government’s permission before they can pursue the occupation of their choice. The IJ report, “License to Work: A National Study of Burdens from Occupational Licensing,” shows that for lower-income Americans, these government-imposed “occupational licensing” hurdles are not only widespread, but often unreasonably high. License to Work details licensing requirements for 102 low- and moderate-income occupations in all 50 states and D.C. It is the first national study of licensing to focus on lower-income occupations and to measure the burdens licensing imposes on aspiring workers . . .

All of the 102 occupations studied in License to Work are licensed in at least one state. On average, these government-mandated licenses force aspiring workers to spend nine months in education or training, pass one exam and pay more than $200 in fees. One third of the licenses take more than one year to earn. At least one exam is required for 79 of the occupations.

“These licensing laws force people to spend a lot of time and effort earning a license instead of earning a living,” said Dr. Dick Carpenter, director of strategic research at the Institute for Justice and report co-author. “They make it harder for people to find jobs and to build new businesses that create jobs.”

Data show that those practicing the 102 occupations studied are not only more likely to be low-income, but also to be minority and to have less education, likely making licensing hurdles even harder to overcome. In addition, about half the 102 occupations offer the possibility of entrepreneurship, suggesting these laws affect both job attainment and creation.

Licensing requirements are usually justified under concerns for public safety. But that’s usually just a canard.

 . . . research to date provides little evidence that licensing protects public health and safety or improves products and services. Instead, it increases consumer costs and reduces opportunities for workers.

License to Work provides additional reasons to doubt that many licensing regimes are needed. First, most of the 102 occupations are practiced somewhere without government permission and apparently without widespread harm: Only 15 are licensed in 40 states or more, and on average, the 102 occupations are licensed in just 22 states—fewer than half. This includes a number of occupations with no self-evident rationale for licensure, such as shampooer, florist, home entertainment installer and funeral attendant.

Second, licensure burdens often vary considerably across states, calling into question the need for severe burdens. For instance, although 10 states require four months or more of training for manicurists, Alaska demands only about three days and Iowa about nine days. Such disparities are prevalent throughout the occupations studied.

Finally, the difficulty of entering an occupation often has little to do with the health or safety risk it poses. Of the 102 occupations studied, the most difficult to enter is interior designer, a harmless occupation licensed in only three states and D.C. By contrast, EMTs hold lives in their hands, yet 66 other occupations face greater average licensure burdens, including barbers and cosmetologists, manicurists and a host of contractor designations.

Idea for some econ grad student: Do a study to determine the number of jobs the Institute for Justice has created over the years by suing, usually successfully, to overturn this protectionist nonsense.

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88 Responses to “Getting the Government’s Permission to Work”

  1. #1 |  Pablo | 

    Check this out–more follies from DeKalb County, GA

    Money quotes from one of the victims:
    “The police department is really just like another gang.”
    “That’s why we run when we see them. We don’t run because we did something wrong. We run because they’re going to beat us or they could shoot us.”

  2. #2 |  sigh | 

    “Plumbing isn’t rocket science either. Nor is electrician’s work. Those are licensed too. For the same reason. Not a libertarian policy, but not a frivolous one either.”

    Apples to oranges. Improper plumbing and electrical connections will very easily kill or injure people – sometimes even in large numbers.

  3. #3 |  Comrade Dread | 

    Licenses should be free to anyone who demonstrates the requirements to have the license.

    I am sympathetic to the idea that trade associations and their credentials/licenses could replace government licensing for most professions, but I’m dubious as to whether or not they would be more effective and whether or not it would make the process of hiring a service provider more difficult as you could have multiple trade groups in the same industry with varying requirements for their credential as well as some fraudulent fly by night ones that will sell their credential to anyone with $50 and then disappear and reappear under a new name once the old association name gets a bad rap.

  4. #4 |  croaker | 

    @8 both Jackass and Politician are occupations protected by the 1st Amendment.

  5. #5 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “By contrast, EMTs hold lives in their hands, yet 66 other occupations face greater average licensure burdens, including barbers and cosmetologists, manicurists and a host of contractor designations.”

    This is really quite shocking. I am preparing to begin EMT training this summer. Not coincidentally, my interest in EMS increased as my interest in LEO careers plummeted. I am fine with the amount of training involved in progressing from EMT to Paramedic (between lecture, clinicals and field time, this will generally take you a couple years). I am sure it is quite necessary. And it is interesting to note that many states accept the National Association of EMT’s certification (this is a private professional organization) when they license EMT’s/Medics. But no such luck for barbers, cosmetologists, etc. What a sham!

  6. #6 |  claude | 

    No need to read the study. Its part of the Koch echo chamber.

    Institute for Justice = Koch funded. Any study from them is good for replacement toilet paper in a pinch. Nothing more.

  7. #7 |  Mattocracy | 

    @ claude,

    You’re an infant.

  8. #8 |  Pi Guy | 

    Plumbing isn’t rocket science either. Nor is electrician’s work.

    Which is why I do all of my own plumbing and electrical. Do you have any idea how much it would’ve cost to pay someone else to do my basement bathroom? It took longer than an expert but save probably thousands of dollars.

    I don’t need to pay them for their licensure. I want to pay them to do work that I can’t or don’t want to do. I can do these things and, therefore, have no need for the government to oversee me.

    Think of it like this: just about every teacher that you’ve ever had was likely licensed by that state to teach. Every one was “certified”. Were all of your teachers good? No! Some were downright awful and, short of being able to land a job as US Gov Teacher/Track Coach, they would have absolutely no value in society (that point is debatable even now). Did certifying teachers guarantee a good education? Not at all. Suppose some 50-ish engineer with 20+ yrs experience decides he’s had enough of the corporate world, has saved up enough to take a teaching job (which, let’s not pretend is some sort of low-paying job…), and wants to teach, say, high school algebra.

    This person has likely forgotten more about algebra than the average HS math teacher’s ever known – and will actually have the answer to “When am I ever going to need to know this?” – but will nost likely withdraw any real good they can offer because it’s not worth it.

    If a person’s ability isn’t enough to hire them than why bother interviewing in the first place? Just throw all the wannabes’ names into a hat and draw out the winners. I mean, every plumber’s just as good as any other – as long as the state says so.

  9. #9 |  Brandon | 

    Hey Claude, Balko works for Huffington Post. Is he part of the Koch echo chamber too? Or are you just pouting because no one will take the time to read the study to you?

  10. #10 |  Real Liberty Media News - 2012-05-11 | Real Liberty Media | 

    […] Call Cops On Man Recording Them | PixiqAmericans stashing cash at home as mistrust of banks spreadsGetting the Government’s Permission to Work | The AgitatorAmericans overwhelmingly favor big defense cuts – EconomyShould The Ron Paul Blimp Fly At The […]

  11. #11 |  BamBam | 

    Permanently blinded for contempt of cop

  12. #12 |  Tu Wog | 

    Can you say…CONTROL?

    NOTHING these ^%#$!^*^$ (fill in your own explative)
    conceive surprises me.

  13. #13 |  nigmalg | 


    Almost any comparison of crime rates between the US and European countries is unfair. While I would agree that a lot of the extra violence in our country is due to the militarization and aggression of our police, it isn’t the whole story.

    Our crime rates are a representation of our economic and cultural makeup. No matter how much we diffuse the unjustifiable aggression in our police force, someone attacking them with a deadly weapon will need an effective rebuttal.

    Germany seems to have different problems to deal with.

  14. #14 |  Leland D. Davis | 

    Since people have said that plumbing isn’t rocket science, that hanging entertainment systems isn’t rocket science, is there anybody here that thinks that working as a rocket designer/scientist should require a license from the government?

  15. #15 |  cks | 

    One other occupation that’s getting screwed by the government..specifically by the Coast Guard is merchant mariners. If your yearly required physical shows ANYTHING, you are screwed. The USCG won’t renew your document and you aren’t able to work. Things like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and apparently soon the old BMI (body mass index) will be reason to refuse a mariner his/her document. This is also done under the guise of safety, but the real effect is to purge the ranks of older, more experienced mariners who tend to be fatter and more prone to health issues. My personal feeling is that there are a lot of bureaucratic wankers sitting at desks dreaming up ways to fuck with people who do actual work.

  16. #16 |  Anonymous | 

    […] get government out of this business one of these days, but I'm not going to hold my breath on it. Getting the Government’s Permission to Work | The Agitator […]

  17. #17 |  croaker | 

    @55 Hey Pi Guy. You described my father exactly. BSEE, took early retirement from the power company. Mother was an Assistant Professor of Nursing at a nearby Nun-run college, so he could get his teaching certificate for the price of books. Stayed in the game long enough to be vested in a second retirement, now he subs. And he’ll be 72 this year.

  18. #18 |  Bob | 

    In the part of the country I live, (Rural Missouri) there is no building code enforcement. If you want to build something, have fun! The only rule is “At least 3 acres per house, each house must have it’s own well and septic”.

    Houses that ARE “built to code” are obvious, they have that “built to code” look. Anyone with even the slightest competency can spot them immediately. As such, the “Oh noes! the resale value!” argument is out the window. What about safety issues? Nope. Not a problem. It’s actually difficult to build something out of modern parts so badly as to make it patently unsafe, the safety is built right in. Some issues do occur… one guy I know had grounding problems in his house… got it fixed. No one was in any danger.

    But is there widespread safety problems, with frequent injuries or deaths? Nope. It just doesn’t happen. People’s houses don’t just fall down at random, people aren’t electrocuted on a frequent basis. None of that.

    But what about incompetent / crooked tradespeople? People just ask around, and get the names of people that do a good job. It’s easy. If you’re new and not a complete asshole, just do a good job for a few people and word of mouth will get around.

    That said, I think “Building to code” is a great idea, and it’s part of the Government’s job to establish and publish these codes. But that’s it, enforcement should be the job of individuals. For example: Electrical wiring. Oh Noes! It’s in the walls! Can’t inspect it! Sure you can. Just take the cover off the Load Center. Is the load center built to code, I.E. not some cheap knockoff? Is it wired with modern, properly color coded wires of the correct gauge? It takes 10 minutes to inspect this. It’s really pretty simple.

    Ok… What if some shady contractor cuts costs by using a salvaged Breaker Box from the 30’s and wires your house with surplus aluminum wire from the 70’s? Just check the work, or have your more competent friends check it. It’s not rocket science.

    And that’s the “Dangerous shit”. How the hell can anyone justify licensing requirements for Interior Decorators, etc?

  19. #19 |  No Job Without Government’s Permission to Work | 

    […] […]

  20. #20 |  Gimmel Yod | 

    They forgot: Feng shui. Heaven only knows what will happen if THAT remains an unregulated activity for much longer!

  21. #21 |  Pi Guy | 

    @67 croaker:

    I believe that _all_ teachers – and, perhaps I’m biased but, epecially in STEM fields – should all have been preapared in this way.

    Unfortunately, the goal of the education system is not to educate but, rather, to graduate. Just like with licensing. If you’ve got a HS diploma, you must be good enough. Or something.

  22. #22 |  Pi Guy | 

    …is there anybody here that thinks that working as a rocket designer/scientist should require a license from the government?

    No, I do not.

    Quetion back to you: do you believe that all it would’ve taken to prevent the Challenger & Columbia catastrophes or the Apollo 1 pad fire is that all those physicists and engineers on the job had been sanctioned by the state to do rocket science? Again, no. See my comment at $58 re: teachers.

    Ever been in a disgusting bathroom in a resturant that you know has been sanctioned by the Health Dept as safe? In that case, I imagine market force – if people really care about sanitation – word will get out and people will simply stop eating there.

  23. #23 |  A Critic | 

    #32 “How much burnt polyester are you willing to have the burn unit scrape off your skin because the Electrician your neighbor hired did not know what he was doing. Some things you only get one chance for. Taking anything too far is crazy in either direction. Some things do need regulation because not doing it effects other peoples right to life and property.”

    My brother works for the best electrician outfit in the area. He reports what I expected. They are all drunks, many if not all are drunk on the job. Most are incompetent to some degree. One who is competent does the worst work. As a rule everything passes inspection, except for things that don’t matter sometimes fail inspection. The fire stations, police stations, and homes of inspectors and their cronies are all except from all codes and often have very dangerous installations.

    And again – this is the best in the area, one of the best in the state. The same goes for every other state regulated industry – the best are content to stop at mediocrity because there is no need to be any better.

  24. #24 |  EBL | 

    The Government is like your mother, it knows what is best for you…

  25. #25 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @47 – “If you are in a position where your neighbor’s decisions could impact the safety of your home, the free market already has that covered.”

    Yes, it would. Only the rich would be able to afford insurance, you’re fucked if it happens otherwise. You’re welcome, 99%!

  26. #26 |  Brandon | 

    Leon, are you an idiot? Do you really think that the insurance industry would survive only selling to the top 1%? Jesus Christ, this is the stupidest comment in a thread featuring some extremely stupid comment.

  27. #27 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @75 – No, you’re treating the insurance companies as idiots if you think that they can afford to insure houses in areas with unrelated wiring. It’s a huge fire hazard!

    Yes, your post really IS that stupid, so why did you make it?

  28. #28 |  Bob | 

    #74: Leon Wolfeson

    @47 – “If you are in a position where your neighbor’s decisions could impact the safety of your home, the free market already has that covered.”

    Yes, it would. Only the rich would be able to afford insurance, you’re fucked if it happens otherwise. You’re welcome, 99%!

    You mean like the area I live? With absolutely no inspections or licensing requirements at all? And yet, Insurance companies insure people just fine, and houses are safely occupied. Rest assured, not too many of those “1 percenters” live around here!

    Electrical wiring isn’t some “magic” that requires a rare, government sanctioned genius to perform. It’s simple enough that any person of average intelligence can do it easily and safely.

    Operating a Chain Saw is far more dangerous. Should I need a license to do that, too? I cut down a tree yesterday, Horrors! I didn’t have a permit, and the site wasn’t inspected by safety inspectors! I didn’t even file an Environmental Impact Report! There could have been rare bugs living in that tree! It could have been too close to a power line! How would I know any of these things? I don’t have a license!

    What about burning a pile of wood on my property? Oh Noes! I might start a Forest Fire, then those old guys in the Volunteer Fire Dept. will have to come out! I should need a comprehensive education, complete with Student Loans, and then a rigorous licensing process before I should be able to do that!

    Let’s make it nearly impossible for anyone to do anything. Then when a simple task needs to be done, we’ll all stand around like idiots because none of us are “licensed” to do it.

  29. #29 |  supercat | 

    #76 | Leon Wolfeson | “@75 – No, you’re treating the insurance companies as idiots if you think that they can afford to insure houses in areas with unrelated wiring. It’s a huge fire hazard!”

    Is there any reason insurance companies wouldn’t be able to have their own teams of inspectors? If you want to live in a house where the wiring consists of nothing but sections of 18ga zip cord that are twisted and taped together, fine, but don’t expect insurance companies to insure it.

  30. #30 |  supercat | 

    #67 | croaker | “Oh Noes! It’s in the walls! Can’t inspect it! Sure you can. Just take the cover off the Load Center. Is the load center built to code, I.E. not some cheap knockoff? Is it wired with modern, properly color coded wires of the correct gauge? It takes 10 minutes to inspect this. It’s really pretty simple.”

    One thing which would help, but I don’t think wire manufacturers do it, would be to have each foot of wire labeled with a unique sequential serial number, with large gaps incidating any manufactured cuts. If an outlet is supposed to be fed from a breaker with a straight 37′ run of cable, the numbers at the breaker and outlet should be consistent with that. Otherwise there’s no way of knowing whether someone spliced wires in the middle of a wall.

  31. #31 |  Bob | 

    #79: supercat,

    That was me at #68 that said “Oh Noes!…” not croaker.

    As to serial markings per foot, That’s an excellent idea! They already use digital printing in the manufacturing process. Adding the sequential number as part of that wouldn’t be too huge a burden.

    It’s true that there are some things you really can’t inspect for once the drywall goes up, and that’s one of them. But serious hazards like using 18 ga speaker wire would be easy to spot. (LOL! That made me laugh!) Can you imagine taking the cover off the Load Center and seeing it totally wired with 18 ga speaker wire? “I think I found the problem!”

  32. #32 |  Vic Kelley | 

    Good thread. Licensing requirements aren’t about public safety or even ensuring that workers are qualified. Instead, it’s all about controlling people and their opportunities.

    Hope this is an incentive for Americans to do all they can to avoid and evade their government at federal, state, and local levels.

  33. #33 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @78 – Sorry, reputable insurance companies, not the ones who’ll refuse to pay out and are essentially scams. I’m sure, as well, if you had a chainsaw injury you’d be VERY surprised when your insurer laughed at your claim.

    And there’s at least one 1%er or quisling, you.

    @79 – Because teams of inspectors are expensive, and you only need to find a single problem on any given block anyway. Insurance is a statistical industry. /Your/ house might be fine, but if one house a few doors along has dodgy wiring, you’re just as much a risk for insurance.

  34. #34 |  Bob | 


    Ooo! Burn! I had to look up “quisling” on the internet. Whatever… your sentence is so poorly structured and incomprehensible as to render it meaningless anyway.

  35. #35 |  EBL | 

    Very similar to the college debt bubble…it is about guilds, and protectionism, and layers of regulation…

  36. #36 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @84 – That’s right, I didn’t use your propaganda. Next, quisling.

  37. #37 |  Militant Libertarian » Getting the Government’s Permission to Work | 

    […] Posted: May 21st, 2012 by Militant Libertarian from The Agitator […]

  38. #38 | » Blog Archive » Getting the Government’s Permission to Work | 

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