Occupational Licensing in Pennsylvania

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 Pennsylvania, 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 Pennsylvania

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 Pennsylvania takes 120 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 Pennsylvania, it takes at least 1,250 hours of classes to get a license in cosmetology. On average, a cosmetology program in the state costs $16,802, while the average student takes out $7,331 in federal student loans. But despite such a hefty investment, many cosmetologists barely earn enough to get by: Half of cosmetologists make less than $21,570 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 $9.4 billion and leads to 89,000 fewer jobs each year. 

Licensing Lawsuits by the Institute for Justice in Pennsylvania 

To better foster economic liberty in Pennsylvania, the Institute for Justice has filed multiple lawsuits against the state’s strict licensing laws. On behalf of Mike Tait, Josh Silver and Ann Boulais, three Philadelphia tour guides, IJ challenged a new license the city wanted to impose on tour guides. In response to the IJ lawsuit, Philadelphia announced it would not enforce its license, allowing tour guides to speak freely without getting the government’s permission first.  

IJ also successfully represented Amanda Spillane and Courtney Haveman, who were wrongly denied cosmetology licenses because of their irrelevant criminal records. But after IJ filed suit, a commonwealth judge struck down the Pennsylvania law and state legislators added new protections for people with criminal records who want to work in a licensed field.  

Most recently, IJ won a major victory for Sally Ladd, who manages short-term rentals in the Poconos but had her business shut down by the real estate commission. Setting an important precedent, a Pennsylvania judge ruled that the real estate commission couldn’t require vacation property managers like Sally to become fully licensed real estate brokers, which requires a three-year apprenticeship under a licensed broker. Those license requirements, the judge ruled, are “unreasonable, unduly oppressive, and patently beyond the necessities of the case.”   

Recent Licensing Reforms in Pennsylvania 

Pennsylvania has eased licensing barriers for ex-offenders and enacted universal recognition for out-of-state licenses. Under the law, 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. 

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

Licensing boards in Pennsylvania can deny licenses to applicants if they believe issuing the license would “pose a substantial risk” to the public. The state also requires boards to consider evidence of rehabilitation and the amount of time elapsed since the crime was committed. Overall, Pennsylvania received a C for its laws in IJ’s Barred from Working report.

How You Can Help

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

Pennsylvania Occupational Licensing in the News

Pennsylvania Occupational Licensing Cases

Pennsylvania Occupational Licensing News

Are Occupational Licenses Preventing You From Working in Pennsylvania?

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.

Step 1 of 2

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