J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · July 9, 2021

Wisconsin has now become the 31st state to eliminate licensing for natural hair braiders, thanks to a bill (AB 121) signed Thursday by Gov. Tony Evers. With a rich heritage spanning millennia, natural hair braiding is a beauty practice common in many African American and African immigrant communities. Unlike cosmetologists, braiders do not cut hair or use any harsh chemicals or dyes in their work. 

Yet Wisconsin was one of just six states nationwide that forced natural hair braiders to become a licensed barber or hairstylist before they could work legally. In Wisconsin, for instance, a barber’s license takes at least 1,000 hours of classes. Sponsored by Rep. Shelia Stubbs and Sen. LaTonya Johnson, AB 121 will finally and fully exempt braiding hair from the state’s licensing laws. 

Shortly after the governor signed the bill, President Joe Biden on Friday signed a new executive order urging the Federal Trade Commission to do away with “unfair occupational licensing requirements.” In his speech, President Biden specifically cited licenses for hair braiders as an example of a “significant burden”: “Do you realize if you want to braid hair, and you move from one state to another, you sometimes have to do a six-month apprenticeship, even though you’ve been in business for a long, long time? What’s that all about?” 

Today, occupational licensing is one of the largest barriers to upward mobility in the nation’s labor markets. According to a 2018 report by the Institute for Justice, nearly 1 in 5 workers now needs a license to do their jobs—a fourfold increase from the 1950s. Each year, burdensome licensing requirements result in 37,000 fewer jobs and cost Wisconsin’s economy up to $3.2 billion in higher prices and “misallocated resources.” A separate IJ study found that the average license for low- and middle-income occupations in Wisconsin required 214 days of coursework and experience, $259 in fees, and passing one exam. 

Since its founding, the Institute for Justice has filed over a dozen lawsuits on behalf of natural hair braiders and is currently challenging a specialty braiding licensing in Louisiana. The Institute for Justice has also published a study, Barriers to Braiding: How Job-Killing Licensing Laws Tangle Natural Hair Care in Needless Red Tape, which found that braiders received very few complaints and that strict licensing laws stifle economic opportunity. 

“The government has no business licensing something as safe and common as braiding hair. This is a great win for entrepreneurship, economic liberty, and just plain common sense,” said IJ Legislative Counsel Jessica Gandy, who lobbied on behalf of the braiders. “By removing unnecessary barriers to work, Wisconsin will let braiders pursue their American dream.”