License to Work: Third Edition Points the Way to a Better, Freer Future 

Mindy Menjou
Mindy Menjou  ·  February 1, 2023

Most people would agree you don’t need a college education to care for young children—but not District of Columbia regulators. As regular Liberty & Law readers know, day care providers in our nation’s capital now need an associate degree to work—a requirement that unduly burdens these low-income workers, most of them women, many of them immigrants, while also making child care even more expensive and difficult to find. 

But day care provider is far from the only occupation subject to unreasonable licensing requirements, as shown in the recently released third edition of IJ’s landmark License to Work report, which documents licensing requirements for 102 lower-income occupations across all 50 states, D.C., and, for the first time, Puerto Rico. 

Five years after the second edition, and 10 years after the first, licensing remains widespread and burdensome. Across the 50 states and D.C., our strategic research team identified more than 2,700 licenses. On average, getting a license requires nearly a year of education and experience, at least one exam, and $295 in fees. 

But there’s some good news. Today, there are 10 fewer licenses on the books than in 2017. And nearly 20% of licenses became less burdensome. Most notably, education and experience requirements—the most burdensome licensing requirement type—fell by an average of 22 days. 

Despite these encouraging findings, too many questionable licenses and unnecessary licensing burdens remain. For example, 88% of the 102 occupations we surveyed are unlicensed by at least one state, and 14 have been delicensed by at least one state, suggesting the jobs can be done safely without a license elsewhere. And as our Too Many Licenses? report found last year, even most government “sunrise” studies of licensing proposals decline to endorse licensing. That goes for 13 occupations studied in License to Work

Moreover, many licensing burdens seem out of proportion to occupations’ risks. Strikingly, 71 of the 102 occupations have greater average requirements than entry-level emergency medical technicians—including all the barbering and beauty jobs in the report. This is despite many reforms to those occupations over the past five years. 

That is why IJ’s legislative team is using License to Work, along with other recent strategic research, to push for more and better reforms across the nation, especially among cosmetology and other beauty occupations. These jobs can provide secure incomes to those trying to climb the economic ladder, but too many aspiring workers and entrepreneurs in these fields find themselves saddled with cosmetology school debt—or blocked from working at all. 

Even now, IJ is working with legislators on bills to exempt various niche beauty services in more than half a dozen states, among other efforts. Meanwhile, our activism and communications teams are working to build public support for these much-needed reforms. 

Besides providing data that will help secure needed legislative reforms, our findings also show the cost of judicial abdication, which for too long has given legislatures free rein to enact needlessly burdensome licensing laws. License to Work therefore stands as a testament to the need for judges to stand up for the constitutionally guaranteed right to earn an honest living, free from unnecessary government interference. 

As IJ continues its decadeslong fight for economic liberty, we will be using License to Work to persuade legislators to adopt sensible reforms and to persuade judges to do their job—so more Americans can do theirs.

Mindy Menjou is IJ’s assistant director of strategic research

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