California can help those in need — if it would just let them work

If we want to give the neediest in our society a path to self-sufficiency, we must give them a path to employment. Yet, a bill before the California legislature — which would have done just that — died in committee on a party-line vote. That’s a shame. Political partisanship should not trump economic opportunity.

The biggest obstacle to entrepreneurship in California and many other states is occupational licensing laws. Though licensure was once limited to professionals such as doctors and lawyers, nowadays one must pay onerous fees and undertake years of experience to get a license to shampoo hair, upholster furniture, trim trees, apply make-up, or even auction items.

Not surprisingly, California is one of the most broadly and onerously licensed states. On average, it takes $486 and 827 days of training, as well as passing two exams, just to enter a lowincome occupation. It takes 1,500 hours of training and passage of two exams to get a license to simply wash someone’s hair for money.

These epic requirements cannot be justified in the name of “public safety.” There’s no argument that shampooing hair requires 10 times the amount of training necessary to become an EMT (which takes just 160 hours).  Instead, studies show that licensure is largely explained by politics: entrenched businesses lobby for barriers to entry that keep out fair competition. A good example hails from neighboring Arizona. When the legislature recently sought to exempt blow dryers from the cosmetologist licensing statute, the licensed cosmetologists came out in droves. They not only sounded alarms about the supposed dangers of unlicensed blow dries, they transparently complained that unlicensed people were going to take their jobs.

Overly broad and burdensome licensing laws raise serious constitutional problems. Some people, therefore, turn to the courts to get silly requirements struck down. But they often fare no better there. Under a judicial doctrine known as the “rational basis test,” courts will uphold a law unless a plaintiff can rebut any conceivable rationale for it. That’s a nearly impossible feat.

Recently, a federal court upheld Missouri’s requirement that “African-style hair braiders” undergo more than a thousand hours of training, costing tens of thousands of dollars, to get a license before braiding hair — despite the fact that less than 10 percent of the training actually pertained to hair-braiding. The court ruled that the law was a “rational” exercise of state power — demonstrating how difficult it is to prove that a licensing law is irrational.

Read more of this The Hill op-ed by Anastasia Boden by clicking here.

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