Occupational Licensing in Mississippi

What is Occupational Licensing?

An occupational or professional license is a permit issued by the government that lets someone work in a particular field. In Mississippi, almost one out of every five workers must now get an occupational license before they can legally do their jobs. But many licenses don’t even improve service quality or protect the public from actual harm.

Licenses Create Barriers to Working in Mississippi

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 for low- and moderate-income jobs in Mississippi takes 169 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 Mississippi, it takes at least 1,500 hours of classes to get a license in cosmetology. On average, a cosmetology program in the state costs $12,371, while the average student takes out $4,972 in federal student loans. But despite such a hefty investment, many cosmetologists barely earn enough to get by: Half of cosmetologists make less than $24,110 a year. 

All told, the state’s licensing requirements come with heavy costs. A separate study by IJ, At What Cost?, estimated that occupational licensing costs the state’s economy $1.22 billion and leads to nearly 13,000 fewer jobs each year. 

Licensing Lawsuits by the Institute for Justice in Mississippi 

The Institute for Justice successfully represented Melony Armstrong, a natural hair braider who wanted to pass on her knowledge to others. But Mississippi wanted to force her to become a licensed cosmetologist instructor, which required 3,200 hours of courses, even though none of those courses taught African-style natural hair braiding. Prompted by IJ’s lawsuit, Mississippi lawmakers completely exempted braiding from occupational licensing. Now braiders only have to pay a $25 registration fee and complete a “self-test” on sanitation. Since IJ challenged Mississippi’s law, more than 6,700 braiders have registered with the state.  

More recently, IJ won a major First Amendment case on behalf of Vizaline, a real estate analytics start-up that demarcates property boundaries by drawing lines on satellite photos. But the Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Surveyors accused the company of practicing “unlicensed surveying.” Thankfully, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Board in 2020.  

Recent Licensing Reforms in Mississippi  

Working with the Institute for Justice, Mississippi lawmakers eliminated licensing requirements for applying makeup, threading eyebrows, and extending eyelashes. The state also enacted universal license recognition, which allows licensed workers who move to the state to work freely without having to waste their time and money trying to obtain another permission slip from the government. Finally, Mississippi has dramatically eased licensing barriers for ex-offenders.  

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

Thanks to recent reforms, Mississippi has some of the country’s better protections for ex-offenders who want to work in a licensed field. People with criminal records can only be disqualified if they have been convicted of crimes that “specific and directly relate” to the license sought. Licensing boards are also required to consider evidence of rehabilitation and how much time has elapsed since the crime occurred.  

Mississippi further requires boards to offer a predetermination process that lets applicants see if their criminal record would disqualify them from a license, before they invest in any potentially expensive training or classes. However, the state’s protections do not apply to many medical, financial, and private security licenses. Overall, Mississippi received a B in IJ’s Barred from Working report. 

How You Can Help

If you are an Mississippi 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 Mississippi workers have the economic liberty they deserve.

Mississippi Occupational Licensing Cases

Are Occupational Licenses Preventing You From Working in Mississippi ?

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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…

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.

Learn More

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:

Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky |Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | Washington, D.C. | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming