Occupational Licensing in Arkansas

What is Occupational Licensing?

Occupational licensing is a permit issued by the government that allows someone to work in a particular field. In Arkansas, nearly one in five workers must now get an occupational license before they can legally do their job. But many of these licenses are too strict, and they don’t even improve service quality or protect the public from actual harm.

Licenses Create Barriers to Working in Arkansas

Occupational licenses often impose high barriers to entry. That makes it much harder for people to find work or to start a new business. According to the Institute for Justice’s report, License to Work , the average license in Arkansas for low- and moderate-income jobs takes 282 days of education and experience. And those required classes can be very expensive.

For instance, cosmetology is one of the state’s most popular licenses. In Arkansas , it takes at least 1,500 hours of classes to get a license in cosmetology. On average, a cosmetology program in Arkansas costs $14,149, while the average student takes out $8,590 in federal student loans. But despite such a hefty investment, many cosmetologists barely earn enough to get by: Half of Arkansas ’s cosmetologists make less than $20,430 a year.

The Institute for Justice’s Fight Against Strict Licensing Laws in Arkansas

To better foster economic liberty, the Institute for Justice has filed multiple lawsuits against strict occupational licensing laws in Arkansas. On behalf of Nivea Earl and Christine McLean, IJ successfully challenged a state law that made it illegal to braid hair without a license in cosmetology.  

In June 2014, IJ filed a federal lawsuit on Nivea’s and Christine’s behalf to challenge Arkansas’s hair braiding regulations as part of its national Hair Braiding Initiative.

IJ also filed a lawsuit on behalf of Dr. Ben Burris, who ran afoul of an Arkansas law that prevented him from legally offering low-cost dental cleaning services. Under the law, orthodontists like Dr. Burris and other licensed dental specialists were banned from working outside of their specialty. Unfortunately, the lawsuit was not successful, and he ultimately relinquished his orthodontist license to expand his general dentistry practice.

Recent Licensing Reforms in Arkansas 

Working with the Institute for Justice, Arkansas legislators have enacted multiple reforms overhauling occupational licensing in recent years. In 2019, the state created a sunrise and sunset review process to analyze both proposed and existing regulations. Those regulations must protect consumers from “significant and substantiated harm to public health and safety” and they must be of the “least restrictive form” of regulation. That same year, the state also eliminated licensing barriers for people with criminal records. In 2021, Arkansas exempted simple hair stylists, shampooers, and blow dry bars from the state’s burdensome cosmetology licensing laws.  

Can You Get a License to Work with a Criminal Record in Arkansas?

Although applicants with a criminal record are presumed ineligible for a license, they can obtain a waiver that would let them work in Arkansas. For that waiver, boards must consider the relevance of the crime, whether an applicant has been rehabilitated and the time elapsed since the crime occurred. In addition, Arkansas bans boards from using arrests, annulled, or expunged records, as well as vague, arbitrary standards like “good character” or “moral turpitude.”  

However, a select dozen crimes automatically trigger “permanent disqualification for licensure” in all occupations. For these reasons, Arkansas received a C+ in IJ’s Barred from Working report.  

How You Can Help

If you are an Arkansas resident and you want to help fight against these unfair and unnecessary licensing laws, there are a few ways you can get involved. You can donate to the Institute for Justice, sign up for our email updates, and share our message with your network. Together, we can make sure that all Arkansas workers have the economic liberty they deserve.

Arkansas Occupation Licensing Cases

Learn more about our Economic Liberty work.

Economic liberty—the right to earn a living in the occupation of your choice without unnecessary government interference—is at the heart of the American Dream. Unfortunately, all too many entrepreneurs find that this dream is under constant attack by unreasonable licensing, permitting and other requirements that stand in the way of honest competition.

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Occupational Licensing Research

Economic Liberty | 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.

Cosmetology | Economic Liberty

Beauty School Debt and Drop-Outs

Cosmetology is one of the most widely and onerously regulated occupations for lower-income workers, yet little research has explored the experiences of aspiring beauty workers. This first-of-its-kind study takes advantage of federal educational…

Barred From Working

Economic Liberty | Occupational Licensing

Barred From Working

Earning an honest living is one of the best ways to prevent re-offending. But strict occupational licensing requirements make it harder for ex-offenders to find work, thwarting their chances of successful reentry.

Economic Liberty | Occupational Licensing

At What Cost?

Not only do state occupational licensing laws force people to spend a lot of time and money earning a license instead of earning a living, they also impose real economic costs. This study takes advantage…

Are Occupational Licenses Preventing You From Working in Arkansas ?

Are you not able to exercise your job or open a business because of burdensome occupational licensing requirements in your state?

Are you forced to waste valuable time and money to become licensed?

We might be able to help.

If you want IJ to review your case, please share your situation through the following form.

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Reforming Occupational Licensing Nationwide

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. 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. Learn more about IJ’s occupational-licensing work in all 50 states:

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