Their view: Licensing creates obstacles to opportunity

Robert Kramer, a communications associate with the Institute for Justice writes about licensing. Here is a sampling:

As the July 4th holiday approaches, American's thoughts will rightfully turn to the freedoms we are supposed to enjoy. But consider two facts in that context: In the 1950s, roughly one in 20 American workers needed the government's permission before they could work in the occupation of their choice. Today, that number has risen to nearly one in three.

For many lower-income occupations across the nation, occupational licensing is a costly part of the job-hunting process, requiring individuals to please not just their potential employers, but also the government.

New Mexico licenses 52 of these low- to moderate-income occupations.

The average lower-income New Mexico occupation requires $158 in fees, 413 days of education and training, and one exam before an aspiring worker can even earn their first fully-licensed dollar.

Workers with a knack for construction face notably steep requirements; to become any type of general contractor (sheet metal, HVAC, drywall installation, etc.) requires a two-year apprenticeship.

Often licensing isn't just excessive, it's irrational. Barbers must go through 280 days of education and training to earn a license to cut customers' hair. An EMT in New Mexico, on the other hand, is required to devote 42 days to training and experience.

The root of troublesome licensing lies in protectionism. A license is a government-enforced barrier that keeps competition out of an industry, to the benefit of existing businesses and their profits. In the end, a license becomes the enforcer of micro-monopolies, with firms gaining private bounties from the abuse of public power, sheltered from the market forces that should rightfully shape them. But there's a simple question to ask here: Who is in a better position to decide who gives a good haircut — consumers or the government?

By creating onerous barriers to entry, job opportunities are being limited for many Americans at a time when more opportunities are sorely needed. Elected officials often speak of helping American workers obtain employment. One of the best things they can do is reduce or remove irrational licensing laws. Having the humility to stay out of the way of aspiring workers and entrepreneurs will go a long way.

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