Occupational Licensing in South 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 South Carolina, almost one out of 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 South 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 South Carolina takes 428 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 South 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 $16,994, while the average student takes out $6,732 in federal student loans. But despite such a hefty investment, many cosmetologists barely earn enough to get by: Half of cosmetologists make less than $20,230 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 $1.57 billion and leads to 17,000 fewer jobs each year.  

Licensing Lawsuits by the Institute for Justice in South Carolina 

On behalf of Kim Billups, Mike Warfield, and Michael Nolan, the Institute for Justice successfully challenged Charleston’s license for tour guides. In a major win for the First Amendment, two federal courts struck down the license for violating the free speech rights for tour guides, letting them work without having to get the government’s approval to speak.  

Sunrise Review in South Carolina 

Under “sunrise review,” whenever a new job regulation is proposed, state regulators must determine whether the regulation is needed, its potential costs and burdens, and if there are any less restrictive alternatives. Between 1989 and 1997, regulators conducted 18 sunrise reviews, but only 17% recommended creating new licenses. Unfortunately, South Carolina’s sunrise review process has been defunct for more than 25 years. 

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

 
In May 2023, Gov. Gov. Henry McMaster signed the Earn and Learn Act, H. 3605, which improves the standards licensing boards use to deny licenses to people with criminal records. The law prevents boards from denying licenses to ex-offenders unless their criminal record “directly relates to the duties, responsibilities, or fitness of the occupation or profession.” The law also bans boards from using vague terms like “good moral character” and “moral turpitude” to deny applicants.

How You Can Help

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

Are Occupational Licenses Preventing You From Working in South Carolina?

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