Occupational Licensing in Wisconsin
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 Wisconsin, 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 Wisconsin
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 Wisconsin takes 197 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 Wisconsin, it takes at least 1,550 hours of classes to get a license in cosmetology. On average, a cosmetology program in the state costs $17,669, while the average student takes out $8,765 in federal student loans. But despite such a hefty investment, many cosmetologists barely earn enough to get by: Half of cosmetologists make less than $26,420 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 $3.73 billion and leads to 37,000 fewer jobs each year.
Recent Licensing Reforms in Wisconsin
Wisconsin was one of the first states to ban municipalities from creating new licenses and from adding new licensing requirements to occupations already licensed on the state level. The state also overhauled its licensing laws to make it easier for ex-offenders to find work.
Can You Get a License to Work with a Criminal Record in Wisconsin?
Licensing boards in Wisconsin can only disqualify applicants who have been convicted of a violent crime or a crime “substantially related” to the license. Boards must also 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, the state’s protections do not apply to licenses involving education or private security. On the whole, Wisconsin received a C for its laws in IJ’s Barred from Working report.
How You Can Help
If you are a Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin workers have the economic liberty they deserve.
Wisconsin Occupational Licensing in the News
Are Occupational Licenses Preventing You From Working in Wisconsin?
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.
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The Institute for Justice is a nonprofit, public-interest law firm dedicated to the protection of constitutional rights, including the right of individuals to produce, procure, and consume homemade foods free from unnecessary and anti-competitive regulations.
Occupational Licensing Research
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…
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:
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