License to Work

IJ Leads the Licensing Reform Wave

Advice gurus preach the virtue of making your own luck—harnessing fate through vision, hard work and perseverance. For 26 years, that is how IJ has been advancing liberty, and there is no better example than the release last month of the second edition of our landmark study License to Work amid a national tidal wave of support for occupational licensing reform.

It is a tidal wave that IJ started and that we are perfectly poised to ride.

Since IJ was founded in 1991, we have been working to untangle the licensing red tape that strangles countless aspiring workers and entrepreneurs by forcing them to get needless government permission slips to pursue the jobs of their choice. Case by case, we have laid bare the human consequences of licensing laws that are often designed more to protect industry insiders from competition than to protect the public from shoddy service. And while racking up legal and legislative victories, we have steadily built awareness and outrage.

And we have used strategic research to further elevate the issue—most notably with the first edition of License to Work in 2012. As the first-ever study to document licensing requirements for lower-income occupations across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, it showed that licensing is not only widespread, but also overly burdensome and frequently irrational.

In the five years since, those core findings have become accepted wisdom and License to Work has become the go-to source on licensing. Today, licensing reform is a bipartisan issue, championed by both the present and immediate past presidential administrations, as well as in state capitols across the country. Just this year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) started an Economic Liberty Task Force focused, in part, on occupational licensing. U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta has spoken out repeatedly in favor of curbing needless, anticompetitive occupational licensing requirements with the goal of opening opportunities for entrepreneurs and job seekers.  Secretary Acosta continues to make licensing reform one of his signature issues and has hired staff to conduct research and public advocacy on the issue. The three leading organizations in state policy, the National Conference of State Legislatures, National Governors Association and Council of State Governments, are undertaking a multi-year project to support reform efforts in select states. And the list of organizations calling for reform spans the ideological spectrum: the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project, California’s Little Hoover Commission, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Mercatus Center, the American Legislative Exchange Council and more.

With reform momentum at an all-time high, our new License to Work “could not have come at a better moment for our nation,” as Acting FTC Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen remarks in the report’s foreword. And IJ is well positioned to direct that momentum toward meaningful change. The new License to Work not only offers the most comprehensive and up-to-date licensing data for lower-income occupations, but it also builds on IJ’s hard-won lessons from years of fighting anticompetitive licensing laws. It gives lawmakers alternative policy solutions that can protect consumers without erecting barriers to honest work, as well as concrete strategies for reform.

The second edition is the product of years of work by IJ’s strategic research team, most especially Research Associate Kyle Sweetland, who spent more than two years collecting its core data. It will take a similarly sustained effort by the entire IJ team to pare back today’s overgrown thicket of licensing laws, but we will persevere until every American enjoys the right to earn an honest living.

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