October 4, 2016

Readers of Liberty & Law are aware of IJ’s recent legislative victories eliminating onerous occupational licenses for hair braiders in Iowa and Kentucky. But they may not realize that these are just two of the five states that have ended licensing for braiders this year—and two of the nine that have done so since we launched our Braiding Freedom Initiative in 2014. In 20 states, braiders are now free to work without a government license.

With momentum for reform building, IJ has contributed intellectual ammunition to the fight for braiding freedom with a new strategic research study, Barriers to Braiding: How Job-Killing Licensing Laws Tangle Natural Hair Care in Needless Red Tape. IJ Senior Research Analyst Angela C. Erickson investigated whether braiding poses risks that justify occupational licensing and whether braiding licenses prevent people from working.

Angela’s original analysis found that braiding is safe—and that forcing braiders to become licensed does nothing but keep braiders out of work.

Licensing boards in nine states and the District of Columbia turned up just 130 complaints against braiders in seven years. The overwhelming majority of complaints came not from aggrieved consumers but from government boards and already licensed cosmetologists. And most complaints were about licenses—not health or safety. In fact, most states that provided data saw no health and safety complaints, despite training requirements that varied from zero to 600 hours.

More burdensome licensing regimes do not protect the public, but they do impose heavy costs on both workers and consumers. The more hours states require for training, the fewer braiders they have—limiting job opportunities and forcing consumers to pay more, wait longer or travel farther to get their hair braided. For example, in 2012, Mississippi, which requires zero hours of training, had more than 1,200 registered braiders. Neighboring Louisiana, which requires 500 hours, had only 32 licensed braiders.

IJ’s Braiding Freedom Initiative is already using Barriers to Braiding to bring reform to the remaining states that still force braiders to complete hundreds or even thousands of hours of training just to braid hair.

But the study’s relevance is not limited to braiding—its findings add to a growing body of research that finds licensing’s costs outweigh its purported benefits. At a time when more American workers than ever before need a government permission slip to work, this research makes a powerful case for reducing and removing needless licensing barriers wherever they exist.

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