Occupational Licensing in North Carolina

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 North Carolina, 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 North Carolina

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 North Carolina takes 228 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 North Carolina, it takes at least 1,500 hours of classes to get a license in cosmetology. On average, a cosmetology program in the state costs $17,083, while the average student takes out $7,280 in federal student loans. But despite such a hefty investment, many cosmetologists barely earn enough to get by: Half of cosmetologists make less than $22,690 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 $4 billion and leads to 42,500 fewer jobs each year. 

Licensing Lawsuits by the Institute for Justice in North Carolina 

To better foster economic liberty in North Carolina, the Institute for Justice has filed multiple lawsuits challenging the state’s strict occupational licensing laws. IJ represented Steve Cooksey, who had his popular blog offering paleo diet advice for fellow diabetics shut down by the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition. But after IJ filed a First Amendment lawsuit, the Board backed down and issued new rules that protect the right to free speech. 

The Institute for Justice also successfully represented Jasna Bukvic-Bhayani, who wanted to teach makeup artistry at a new school. But North Carolina banned Jasna from teaching, unless she completed 500 hours of esthetician license training and spend at least $10,000 on esthetician equipment useless for makeup artists. Fortunately, after IJ filed suit, the Board allowed makeup schools to operate without an unnecessary license.  

IJ is currently litigating two major First Amendment lawsuits against North Carolina licensing boards. Michael Jones, who runs a one-man videography and photography business, has been banned from using drones to make thermal maps or stitch together images for his clients, because the state’s land surveyor board consider his drone imagery “surveying” land without a license. In a similar vein, Wayne Nutt, who retired after decades of experience as an engineer, has been barred by the state from talking about engineering in public, unless he becomes a licensed engineer.  

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

Licensing boards in North Carolina can only disqualify applicants if they have been convicted of a crime “directly related” to the license or a sexual or violent felony. North Carolina also requires boards to consider evidence of rehabilitation and to offer a predetermination process. This lets applicants petition a board to see if their criminal record would disqualify them, before they start any potentially expensive required courses. Overall, North Carolina received a B for its protections in IJ’s Barred from Working report.  

How You Can Help

If you are a North Carolina 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 North Carolina workers have the economic liberty they deserve.

North Carolina Occupational Licensing in the News

Are Occupational Licenses Preventing You From Working in North Carolina ?

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

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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