Natural or African-style hair braiding avoids using any potentially dangerous chemicals, making it a very safe practice. But according to Untangling Regulations, a 2014 report by the Institute for Justice, more than 20 states force braiders to become licensed as either barbers, hairstylists or cosmetologists, which can take anywhere from 1,000 to 2,100 hours of training. That involves learning skills braiders don’t use in their careers, like how to cut hair, use chemicals to give perms or color hair or perform manicures and facials. In some states, that coursework can cost upwards of $20,000.
Fortunately, spurred by IJ’s litigation, legislative and media efforts, more states are eliminating this pernicious type of red tape. After IJ took Arkansas to federal court on behalf of two braiders, Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the “Natural Hair Braiding Protection Act,” which exempts braiding from cosmetology, last March.
In June, Texas deregulated the practice and teaching of hair braiding, in response to a major victory by IJ in federal court. Over the summer, reforms exempting braiders from licensure also took effect in Colorado and Maine. Meanwhile, IJ is currently suing Iowa and Missouri for forcing braiders to finish hundreds of hours of useless cosmetology training. (In Iowa, braiding hair without a license even risks jail time.)
And just this week, a Nebraska state senator introduced a bill that would exempt braiders from the state’s cosmetology license. At 2,100 hours of coursework, it’s one of “the most onerous regulations for hair braiders,” according to IJ.
But burdensome licenses are by no means limited to hair braiding. In a 2012 report, License to Work, the Institute for Justice analyzed over 100 low- and middle-income occupational licenses and found that on average, a license to work requires nine months of education or training, passing an exam and paying more than $200 in fees.
Today, one in four workers now needs a license before they can legally do their jobs; during the 1950s, that figure was one in twenty. Since licensing is so pervasive, it’s hardly surprising it generates enormous costs. A recent study by the Heritage Foundation estimated occupational licenses cost consumers $127 billion per year, or more than $1,000 for the average American household.