Ensnaring everyone from animal massage therapists to shampooers, occupational licensing has become a serious drain on the economy. On Friday, The New York Times profiled the Institute for Justice’s nationwide battle against licenses that are “unconstitutionally interfering with the right to earn a living.”

Take Grace Granatelli, who started a dog massaging business during the recession:

But in 2013, Arizona’s Veterinary Medical Examining Board sent her a cease-and-desist order, demanding that she close up shop for medically treating animals without a veterinary degree. If not, the board warned, every Swedish doggy massage she completed could cost her a $1,000 fine.

To comply with the ruling and obtain a license, Ms. Granatelli would have to spend about $250,000 over four years at an accredited veterinary school. None require courses in massage technique; many don’t even offer one.

Grace is now represented by IJ, and has sued the Board for its “irrational and anti-competitive requirement that animal massage therapists become licensed veterinarians.”

Over the years, occupational licensing has grown tremendously. Today, roughly one in four American workers needs a license to work. During the 1950s, that number was one in 20. The Times also describes other bizarre licensing regimes:

In Tennessee, a license is required to shampoo hair; in Florida, to sell a yacht. In Montana, you need the state’s approval to be an egg candler; in Utah, to repair upholstery; in Louisiana, to be a florist.


Requirements for the same job often have whiplash-level variation. South Dakota requires 2,100 hours of education and a cosmetology license to braid hair — a popular entry point into the labor force for African-American women. South Carolina demands only a six-hour course.

Security guards in Michigan need to have three years of training; none is needed in New Hampshire and Ohio.

Mandates often seem mismatched with the needed skill set. In Michigan, an athletic trainer needs 1,460 days of training compared with 45 for an emergency medical technician.

“Across the political spectrum, everyone agrees” occupational licensing needs reform, said Lee McGrath, IJ’s legislative counsel. “There is no labor economist who thinks it is good for the economy,” he added.

Unfortunately, challenging occupational licenses remains an uphill battle. “When there is an effort to dial back legislation, then the licensed industry turns out with huge counterattack. This is the same story that plays out in every state,” said Dick M. Carpenter, director of strategic research at IJ and co-author of IJ’s path-breaking report, License to Work.

One of the few states that has seen modest licensing reform is Arizona. In May, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill that scrapped some absurd occupational regulations, including licenses for citrus fruit packer. Although animal massage was untouched by that bill, IJ is still continuing its challenge against the Board.