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The Little Known Barrier To Getting A Job That Clinton Wants To Take On

CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

If you want to be a hair stylist, first you have to get your license. In theory, that’s meant to ensure that you have the requisite skills to handle chemicals and scissors and not hurt anyone.

But the requirements for getting a stylist’s license vary significantly depending on what state you live in, from 1,000 hours of training in New York to more than double that — 2,300 hours — in Oregon. Yet it’s not doubly dangerous to be a hair stylist in one state or another.

To get the required training, most stylists have to shell out tuition at a beauty school, many of which are for-profit institutions that charge tuition rates in the tens of thousands of dollars.

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos/ThinkProgress
CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos/ThinkProgress

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is promising to try and change that.

In a slate of proposals released by the campaign on Tuesday aimed at small businesses, she vows to take on the growth of occupational licensing, which has ballooned such that more than a quarter of all workers need one to do their jobs.

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Arguing that “unnecessary requirements also increase costs for everyone and stand in the way of those who are eager to start new careers or open a business,” Clinton promises to “launch a national initiative to break down unnecessary barriers to starting a company.”

That will include giving federal funding to states and localities that streamline and get rid of unnecessary licensing programs — funding meant to replace the forgone revenue governments get from licensing fees. Licenses cost workers more than $200 on average each to obtain.

Clinton would also offer technical assistance and resources to help states determine which licensing requirements are important to keep and which ones are simply unnecessary barriers. The proposal notes, however, that any state and local initiatives will only get money if they also ensure that “public health and safety” are still safeguarded.

Clinton also promises to work with states to standardize licensing requirements — so that hair stylists, for example, aren’t faced with an extra 1,300 hours of training if they live in or want to move to Massachusetts. Some jobs are licensed in some states but not others. Louisiana requires licenses for 71 out of 102 occupations, the most of any state, while Wyoming requires them for just 24.

CREDIT: White House
CREDIT: White House

That could make it easier for anyone who works in a licensed profession to move and continue working in their field. The proposal argues that this is particularly important for military families and spouses, who are often employed in these occupations and move frequently.

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Certainly licensing in some fields makes a lot of sense for the public interest, such as for doctors, dentists, and lawyers. But other occupations’ needs are less clear, like the licensing requirements for interior designers or florists. About two-thirds of the increase in occupational licensing — up from just 5 percent in the 1950s — is due to more and more jobs adding the requirement.

CREDIT: White House
CREDIT: White House

Licensing requirements can serve to reduce employment in those professions, as they act as a barrier to people who can’t obtain them. But there is one clear way in which licensing can be beneficial for workers: a study found that it is associated with an 18 percent boost in wages for those in licensed professions.

The current president has already taken notice of these issues. In July of 2015 President Obama released a call to action and set of best practices for reforming occupational licensing in states, and a year later he followed that up with $7.5 million in grants.