1) Under state licensing laws, are cosmetologists required to train longer than emergency medical technicians?
Yes. As of 2022, on average, states demanded about a year’s worth of training to secure a cosmetology license and just over a month’s worth of training for an EMT license.
2) Is comparing licensing for cosmetologists to EMTs comparing apples to apples?
No—it’s an unfair comparison to EMTs. The work of EMTs bears a far more direct relationship to public health and safety than the work of cosmetologists. That’s what makes the comparison illuminating. The argument for licensing both fields is that establishing minimum training standards protects public health and safety. At its core, the emergency medical field is about public health and safety, while much of what cosmetologists do—and are trained to do—is entirely unrelated to public health and safety. Yet cosmetologists face far steeper training demands. This raises the question: Are states imposing training requirements on aspiring cosmetologist beyond what might be needed for safe practice? Evidence strongly suggests the answer is yes. In 2016, the American Institutes for Research, at the request of the beauty industry, examined cosmetology curriculum mandates by topic across 11 states (pp. 10-14). While noting mandates are not always clear and safety may be woven into other topics, AIR reported that, on average, the 11 states mandated 167 hours of education that specifically related to safety and sanitation. Considering that the 11 states required an average of 1,645 hours of cosmetology school, safety and sanitation amounts to about 10% of required training for a license. By contrast, we expect that all EMT training addresses health and safety because it is essential to practicing the occupation.
3) Would it make more sense to compare cosmetology licensing to paramedic licensing?
No. In terms of health and safety, the work of cosmetologists is even less comparable to that of paramedics. Those arguing that cosmetologists are more like paramedics than EMTs claim cosmetologist is not an “entry-level” position like EMT. That’s not factually correct. To start in the field of cosmetology, you get a cosmetology license, just as you would get an EMT license to start in the field of emergency medicine. (While states offer easier to obtain licenses within the cosmetology field, such as manicurist, esthetician, hairstylist or shampooer, these are subfields, not stepping stones toward a higher-level license as EMT is for paramedic.) More to the point, the relevant question is not where various licenses rank on a totem pole within an industry but rather how the license requirements relate to the purpose of licensing—public health and safety. On that score, the work of cosmetologists is even less comparable to that of paramedics. Paramedics perform intubations, administer pharmaceuticals, and are trained to deal with major life-threatening events like heart attacks and serious physical trauma. Cosmetologists, needless to say, do none of these things. The fact that the training requirements to become a cosmetologist are more on par with the requirements to become a paramedic than with the requirements to become an EMT does nothing to justify cosmetology requirements. Quite the opposite: It simply raises the question of what cosmetologists are doing that is as dangerous as the work paramedics are called on to perform. Put simply, the comparison to paramedics dodges rather than answers the fundamental question here: Do aspiring cosmetologists face training requirements that outstrip legitimate public health and safety justifications and that may serve only as a barrier to entry—and a significant debt burden?
4) What does all of this tell us about occupational licensing?
Occupational licensing has gained attention and concern across the political spectrum in recent years because it creates real problems. A growing body of research finds it acts as a barrier to work, raises costs for consumers, inhibits geographic mobility and acts as a drag on the economy—with scant evidence that licensing protects public safety. When evaluating any license, the most important question is whether its restrictions are essential to protecting public health and safety. It is heartening to see licensing proponents agree public safety is key to justifying licensing—but all too often they answer the question with assertions that have no foundation in data, research or reality.
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