J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · July 27, 2016

In any given year, an American taxpayer is more than twice as likely to be audited by the IRS as an African-style hair braider is to receive a complaint of any kind—and genuine consumer complaints are even rarer. That is according to Barriers to Braiding: How Job-Killing Licensing Laws Tangle Natural Hair Care in Needless Red Tape, a new report released today by the Institute for Justice. The report finds that braiding is safe, and licensing requirements for braiders do nothing but prevent braiders from working and stifle entrepreneurial opportunity.

African-style hair braiding is a time-tested, natural craft. Yet 26 states force braiders to get a government license and take hundreds or thousands of hours of classes before they can legally work. These classes can cost over $10,000 and take as much as a year to complete. The result is that many entrepreneurs of modest means are simply shut out of the job market.

“Licensing laws for hair braiders are just one example of states requiring government permission slips to work,” said Angela C. Erickson, senior research analyst at the Institute for Justice and author of the study. “More Americans than ever now need a license to work, and this is just the latest research to show that the costs of such licensing often outweigh any purported benefits.”

The report’s key findings are:

  • Hair braiding is safe. Complaints against braiders are exceedingly rare, and the vast majority come from already-licensed competitors or government boards disputing their licensure status—not the safety of their practice.
  • Licensing laws keep braiders out of work and do nothing to protect health or safety. States that demand more training hours to get a license to braid have fewer braiders relative to their African-American population than states with lighter requirements, and most of these differences are statistically significant. For example, in 2012, Mississippi, which requires zero hours of training, had over 1,200 registered braiders. Neighboring Louisiana, which requires 500 hours, had only 32 licensed braiders.

To examine the safety of braiding, Erickson used open records requests to obtain braiding complaint files from states with special licenses or registration for braiders. Nine states and the District of Columbia provided complaint data on 9,731 licensed and registered braiders. Between 2006 and 2012, just 95 of those braiders had a complaint filed against them, and only one braider received a complaint from an actual consumer. Almost all of the remaining complaints were filed by licensing boards or their licensees. The study also examined the proportion of braiders relative to the state’s African-American population for 12 states and D.C. The results are clear: States with more onerous licenses have fewer braiders. Burdensome licensing is shutting braiders out of the workforce, limiting jobs and forcing consumers to pay more, wait longer or travel further to get their hair braided.

Increasingly, states are recognizing that there’s simply no need to license braiders. In 20 states, braiders are now free to work without a license. This year alone, five states eliminated licensing for braiders—Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska and West Virginia. This growing momentum for reform demonstrates that more policymakers can and should free braiders from needless licensing.

For 25 years, IJ has successfully fought for the right of hair braiders to work without getting government permission, scoring three federal court victories and numerous legislative victories. IJ has also published two reports, A Dream Deferred: Legal Barriers to African Hairbraiding Nationwide and Untangling Regulations: Natural Hair Braiders Fight Against Irrational Licensing, examining licensing laws for hair braiders in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. And in 2014, IJ launched its Braiding Initiative, filing lawsuits in three states simultaneously. More information about IJ’s initiative can be found at BraidingFreedom.com.