Occupational Licensing in Oklahoma

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 Oklahoma, 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 Oklahoma

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 Oklahoma takes 405 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 Oklahoma, it takes at least 1.500 hours of classes to get a license in cosmetology. On average, a cosmetology program in the state costs $12,459, while the average student takes out $7,617 in federal student loans. But despite such a hefty investment, many cosmetologists barely earn enough to get by: Half of cosmetologists make less than $23,430 a year. 

Licensing Lawsuits by the Institute for Justice in Oklahoma 

To better foster economic liberty in Oklahoma, the Institute for Justice has filed multiple lawsuits against the state’s strict licensing laws. Representing Kim Powers, who wanted to sell caskets, IJ sued Oklahoma for only allowing licensed funeral directors to sell caskets. But obtaining that license requires years of college-level courses and an apprenticeship. Even though this licensing scheme clearly suppressed competitive markets, it was still upheld by a federal appeals court.  

“Economic protectionism,” the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared, is a “legitimate state interest,” reasoning that “while baseball may be the national pastime of the citizenry, dishing out special economic benefits to certain in-state industries remains the favored pastime of state and local governments.” 

On behalf of Kelly Rinehart, Maria Gore and Jeffrey Evans, IJ successfully challenged an Oklahoma law that banned interior designers from calling themselves “interior designers” without a license issued by the state. But soon after IJ filed suit, Oklahoma lawmakers repealed the law.  

In addition, the Institute for Justice is currently litigating two lawsuits against the Oklahoma Board of Cosmetology and Barbering for forcing eyebrow threaders and eyelash extensions specialists to become licensed estheticians. But the state’s esthetics license takes four months of training and thousands of dollars and teach skills eyebrow threaders and eyelash extensions specialists simply won’t use.  

Recent Licensing Reforms in Oklahoma 

Oklahoma has passed multiple laws that have made it much easier for ex-offenders to become licensed and enacted universal recognition for out-of-state licenses. Under the latter, licensed workers who move to the state will be free to work when they arrive and will no longer have to waste their time and money trying to obtain another permission slip from the government. The state also approved an occupational licensing review act that analyzes every occupational licensing at least once every four years.  

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

Thanks to a series of recent reforms, Oklahoma now has some of the best protections in the nation for ex-offenders who want to work in a licensed field. Oklahoma banned boards from considering arrest, sealed and vacated records, convictions that happened more than five years ago (aside from sexual or violent crimes), and vague terms like “good moral character” to disqualify applicants.  

Licensing boards must consider whether an applicant has been rehabilitated and offer a predetermination process. This lets applicants see if their criminal record could disqualify them, before they invest in any costly training or classes. However, Oklahoma’s protections do not apply to education licenses.  

How You Can Help

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

Oklahoma Occupational Licensing Cases

Are Occupational Licenses Preventing You From Working in Oklahoma ?

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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 | Occupational Licensing

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