All Americans deserve the opportunity to earn an honest living. Yet occupational licenses, which are essentially permission slips from the government, routinely stand in the way of honest enterprise. Without these licenses, workers can face stiff fines or even risk jail time. The requirements for licensure, though, can be an enormous burden and often force entrepreneurs to waste their valuable time and money to become licensed. Additionally, these burdens too often have no connection at all to public health or safety. Instead, they are imposed simply to protect established businesses from economic competition.

  • IJ’s landmark study License to Work measured for the first time the burdens that occupational licensing imposed on more than 100 low- and moderate-income workers. This study has been featured in over 300 news articles throughout media outlets including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and BBC World News, as well as in a Pulitzer Finalist editorial series by The Des Moines Register, in congressional testimony, and in numerous scholarly and policy studies.
  • Our Strategic Research on occupational licensing was prominently cited in a white paper by President Obama’s White House Council of Economic Advisers, Department of the Treasury and the Department of Labor.
  • Since our founding, IJ has fought to roll back oppressive occupational-licensing rules in more than two dozen distinct occupations, ranging all the way from tax preparers to florists to traditional African hair braiders.

For a growing number of Americans, gainful employment no longer requires convincing only a potential employer or customer of their value. It requires also convincing the government. This barrier to an honest living makes entrepreneurship more difficult in general. Furthermore, it can be an effective bar on entering many low-income occupations for people with less access to financial capital or formal education. These laws are wrong—economically, morally and constitutionally.  Consumers and employers, not legislators and bureaucrats, should decide who succeeds in which jobs. To expand economic opportunity and vindicate the basic constitutional right to economic liberty, IJ is dedicated to rolling back these unnecessary and harmful restrictions.

Occupational Licensing Cases

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Occupational Licensing Research

Occupational Licensing

License to Work 3

This third edition of IJ’s landmark License to Work report finds that for lower-income Americans, licensing continues to be widespread, burdensome and—frequently—irrational. It also provides a blueprint for meaningful licensing reform.

Economic Liberty | Occupational Licensing

Raising Barriers, Not Quality

This study tests claims that occupational licenses make consumers better off by screening out workers likely to provide inferior service. Comparing Yelp ratings for service providers in neighboring states with different licensing regimes, this study…

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