PA Should Stop Licensing Barbers

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Adam Ozimek has a great post on the new Institute for Justice report, about how out-of-control occupational licensing is creating too many barriers to entry in the labor market. Basically, incumbents in various sectors get the state to require licensing for people to work in that sector, which reduces competition by making people jump through a bunch of hoops in order to sell their skills for money.

For some sectors the rationale for licensing (or at least certification) is more plausible, but in others, it’s patently ridiculous. Barber and cosmetologist licensing, for instance. Here’s Adam with some highlights from the report:

1. Those receiving licenses have lower income than the average worker ($30k vs $47k), more likely to be minority, and more likely to be a high school dropout or have just a high school education than the general population. Importantly, those crowded out of these jobs probably have even lower income and even less educated than those who actually got the licenses.

2. Forty-seven states find it unnecessary to license interior designers, and yet the four that do find it necessary to receive 2,190 days of training to become one. This is a joke, and congressmen in those four states should be ashamed of themselves for this obvious and egregious handout.

3. Defenders of licensing regularly point to safety concerns, but for a large proportion of the occupations that are licensed somewhere, there are other states where they are not licensed, and in these states we do not witness of epidemic of wildly untrained barbers accidently cutting off ears, for example.  In addition, some jobs that clearly do involve safety often require vastly less training than others where the argument is much more tenuous. For instance, cosmetologists on average require 372 days of training, while EMTs only require 33.

4. States should have commissions with the power to strike down these laws unless evidence is presented that the licenses provide a significant health and safety benefit that justifies the cost. For many occupations if one wished to be a tedious contrarian one could say “well, you see florists are a public health concern because…” and then Slate your way into a convoluted argument in defense of a license, but the beauty of this study is that it shows other states where licensing isn’t required. Angry and concerned citizens of 26 states should be saying “South Carolina doesn’t require a license to be a taxidermist, so why the fuck do I have to have one?”

Here are all the Business-related licensing Boards in Pennsylvania. I bolded the ones I think for sure need to go:

Architects Licensure Board
Auctioneer Examiners
Barber Examiners
Certified Real Estate Appraisers
Crane Operators
Registration Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists
Funeral Directors
Landscape Architects
Real Estate Commission
Vehicle Manufacturers, Dealers and Salespersons
Navigation Commission for the Delaware River and its Navigable Tributaries

And here are all the Health-related Boards:

Massage Therapy
Examiners of Nursing Home Administrators
Occupational Therapy
Osteopathic Medicine
Physical Therapy
Speech-Language and Hearing Examiners
Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors
Veterinary Medicine

Rick Snyder, Michigan’s Republican Governor, is taking this issue on. Hopefully Tom Corbett will follow suit. These really are “job killing regulations”, although not the environmental ones your typical Republican is thinking about.

This entry was posted in Economy.

19 Responses to PA Should Stop Licensing Barbers

  1. phillydem says:

    A person operating a large piece of heavy equipment like a crane shouldn’t be licensed?

    • Jon says:

      I flagged that one because it’s a new Board. Unless I’ve been missing the stories, I haven’t seen any rash of crane accident articles recently to prompt the change in policy. Seems to me that there was no problem of unqualified crane operators prior to the licensing change, and I don’t think there’s a problem now. Employers are perfectly capable of checking people’s references to see if they’ve operated a crane before.

      • phillydem says:

        That’s some seriously spurious correlation. Maybe the real reason there haven’t been many accidents is because crane operators are properly trained and licensed. Depending on a contractor to check references is just asking for trouble and laughably naive.

  2. Julieann Wozniak says:

    I could never figure out why cosmetologists need to be licensed. They also have to complete a course of study at an accredited school. Someone is getting rich, and it is not the disproportionately female practitioners who become cosmetologists. In Greene County, at least, this profession is one important path to owning your own business and economic freedom. Not everyone can be an overpaid IT tech like me.

  3. Ed H. says:

    Yeah, the whole blog posting is ridiculous, particularly crane operators. The crane operators thing is because a crane is a bit more complicated to operate than a typical car. I’m a boilermaker, and I have to get training to signal a crane, know weight limits and safe rigging procedures. The crane operators should not be made up of any dope off the street who doesn’t have extensive training in the safe operation of their machinery. The same gies for thise who are setting up the rigging job, signaling and I’ll go so far as to say that all of those occupations that require a license should remain so, an then some. Anecdotally, loose licensing has created problems in so
    E states regarding tattooing and barber shops. Do we really want an untrained person giving haircuts, coloring and perms to people and seeing those people become the victims of perpetual bad hair days or baldness because they were not trained to use the chemicals correctly? How about walking into the funeral parlor to see granny looks like she’s been dead for six months because she was not embalmed correctly, and now she’s bloated?

    Between the insane position you’re takin on licensing occupations that require skills not picked up at the local high school, vo-tech or community college, and this insane push to see the state suffer from privatized liquor stores, I wonder if this blog is run by Democrats at times.

    • Jon says:

      The problem with your argument is that you are equating “unlicensed” with “untrained.” It’s not the same thing at all.

      The reason this should be the Democratic position is that we want to create more opportunities for people to enter the job market, by reducing barriers to entry. If somebody has barbering skills or make-up artist skills, we should make it very very easy for them to sell those skills for money. We should not be creating additional red tape for them.

  4. Ed H. says:

    The problem with your argument is that you’re willing to leave it to a contractor or company to make sure people are trained. Union trades do the training, both for apprenticeship and journeyman upgrades. Non-union contractors not so much, because they don’t have the pools of willing contractors or members of a union willing to part with a few pennies on the dollars earned for training funds. The crane issue came up because there were a rash of crane accidents, particularly in New York City, a few years back. OSHA stepped in and put more requirements and to ensure the requirements are met, the licensing procedure, and testing to get the license, was put in place. Licensing just insures a minimum requirement that often isn’t met when companies are left to their own devices of putting profits before quality. Doing away with licensing requirements puts the public in danger in many cases. In others, shoddy work from untrained employees is the result, and thousands or millions of dollars can be at stake. There’s incredibly good reason for the red tape. And again, I don’t understand why anyone calling them self a liberal would get into killing more jobs or lowering wages like the Republicans do. Perhaps you don’t have experience working in the real world, but many of us do and know that the licensing process reduces shoddy training or work.

    • Jon says:

      I’m persuadable that licenses or some kind of state certification is needed in the case of cranes or dangerous work conditions, and I also agree that unions provide a critical kind of quality control. But you’re not going to persuade me that barbers and cosmetologists and massage therapists need to be licensed. Those are cases where a market is perfectly capable of doing quality control. If somebody gives you a shitty haircut or does your make-up badly, you’re going to tell your friends not to go there. The stakes are low.

      As liberals, we should care about reducing barriers to entry because too many low-income people with marketable skills are being kept out of the labor market for no good reason. Think about people with only a high school diploma, or dropouts, or ex-cons, trying to enter the labor force. Somebody who learns to cut hair at a Vo-Tech should be able to get a job cutting hair right away, right out of school with no need to get a license. We should not be making it harder for people with low formal education to get good paying jobs.

  5. Ed H. says:

    Institute for “Justice” is a libertardian think tank, looking to reduce regulations that protect workers and consumers. Why? Because its the same kind of thinking from them that says a Laissez Faire economy is best, even when deregulation and unregulated markets have resulted in the last two recessions and the largest recessions and depressions ever. They would undo OSHA protections, the NLRB, the EPA, FDA and more. Things that keep the economy strong and people from getting sick or dead from the air we breathe, the food we eat, the places we work.

  6. Ed H. says:

    And again, the problem with this thinking is that you’re still putting downward pressure on wages and benefits and lower skill levels. An as far as barbers and hair stylists (I believe they are two different licenses, because the barbers license is more involved, but don’t take that for gospel), when they end their training, they automatically take the tests to gain their licenses. If they fail the tests of minimum requirements, then its pretty scary to think that they could misuse chemicals and cause skin rashes and burns, permanently cause baldness, etc. that’s more than just a shitty haircut. There are issues of keeping wages higher, which is a boon to the economy. And by right of training, the licensing comes along anyway. The argument that people will just avoid the places or contractors that are producing g shoddy work and will fade because of the market is largely bullshit. How many times have we heard about unscrupulous contractors leaving unfinished, shoddy work behind after fleecing customers? It’s far better to have the licensing, protect wages and the middle class and have those trained to do these jobs to meet minimum requirements, with proper insurance and the threat of losing a license keeping them in line.

    • Jon says:

      I think the problem is that licensing is keeping more people out of the middle class, than it is helping to create a middle class. People who could be doing higher skilled jobs for more money don’t get to. An ex con with barbering skills can’t get a job because to get a license, you need a clean criminal background check. The training hours required to get a license are often too much for teenagers who have to go to Vo-Tech and meet their academic studies requirements. If they don’t finish the hours in Vo-Tech, then they have to do outside training for like $10 an hour. It’s stupid. If you can complete Vo-Tech, you should be able to practice the trade you learned. A diploma should suffice.

      We should have tougher enforcement of anti-fraud laws if people aren’t doing the work they promise to do. I hope that our new Democratic Attorney General will make that a top priority after she wins in November.

  7. Ed H. says:

    Ok, now the libertardians have to prove that by flooding the markets with less skilled entrants to the specific labor force while putting downward pressure on wages, will be a boon to the economy, in spite of the externalities of costly mistakes made by the addition of these lower skill workers. Does spreading the misery of lower wages help the economy, or does it hurt it? I’m sure that there are some occupations where it’s not necessary to have a license. Out of all of the ones you listed, maybe massage therapist is one that could see the licensing done away with. But many of the rest you listed shows an ignorance of the occupation, and how knowledge of the person performing is crucial to health, safety, customer satisfaction, etc.
    I’d just warn that often when libertarians offer “solutions” the results are usually disastrous.

    • Jon says:

      I don’t think “not licensed” is the same thing as “less skilled”. Maybe I know how to give a better haircut than some licensed barbers, but I don’t feel like spending the money to get licensed, so I just don’t try. The licensing regime acts as a deterrent to some extent.

      The other issue is, lower wages compared to what? Our fictional hobbyist barber could earn higher wages as a barber than working at a clothing store. It would mean higher real wages for many more people, even though the incumbents’ average wages would come down.

  8. Ed H. says:

    Lower wages than what is the industry norm. The influx of lowering wages on an industry can be harmful for both established workers and entrepreneurs in the industry, but also for the person looking to break into that line of work. Look at how residential construction has seen wages fall as unskilled and often undocumented immigrants have flooded the markets in some areas. Look, I’m not saying that there aren’t unlicensed barbers who can do a better job. But there are health issues, like properly maintaining equipment to guard against the spread of head lice, infections from dirty tools like shavers, scissors and razors, and more. With the potential loss of a license, there is an incentive to keep equipment and skills at a higher level because it means that the barber could lose his livelihood if the license is revoked. An unlicensed barber can just move on and leave In his wake injured people and calls for the industry to be licensed. It’s no different than a drivers license that deals with the externality of car ownership by punishing speeders, drunk drivers, aggressive drivers. Should we allow the roadways to become willy-nilly? I’ve been in third world countries that do not have traffic rules enforced. It’s not a pretty sight.
    So, the licensing is a protection for the public and those who are in the industry and those who want to get into the industry. The libertarians are nice guys. But they are deluded by ideology instead of living in the real world. There is usually a history of externalities that lead a state to require licensing. The answer is to offer subsidizing and help for those attending those accredited schools that offer training, and ease the path to getting a license. Education cuts and the Laissez Faire approach to economics is hurting this country, when the biggest companies and wealthiest people aren’t soaking us all to subsidize their losses while they privatize profits.
    If you’re going to advocate for people, make sure it’s not going to further hurt people if the policies you want are harmful.

    • Jon says:

      If there was really a problem with unlicensed barbers screwing things up and hurting people, then you’d see that in the states that don’t license barbers. The fact that you do not see that shows that this is mostly just about politics. Higher wages for a small protected class of people is not as progressive as lowering prices for the vast majority of people. We should want *real wages* to rise across the board. We should be trying to make the prices of the stuff that people buy less expensive.

  9. Ed H. says:

    One further point, is at the very least, there should be at the least, a short seminar and testing to get a license in many of those licensing boards. If a wannabe barber can’t meet minimum requirements for doing his job, then he should not be in the business, until he passes a test. And quite often, an apprenticeship should be required.