Want to professionally wash hair in Alabama? You’re going to need a occupational license. Want to be a massage therapist? You’ll need a license for that too. A bartender? An interior designer? A locksmith? An architect? You get the idea, you’re going to need a license for those jobs as well.
Simply put, an “occupational license” is express industry board/government permission to work in a chosen field. To earn the necessary license, an aspiring worker may have to anything from simply registering with the state board, all the way to examinations, or even hundreds of hours of classroom or practical experience.
In 1950, roughly one in twenty Americans worked in a job that required a state-approved license or certification. Today, it is at least one in four — a whopping 500 percent increase. In Alabama, more than 140 different occupations require occupational licenses. Meaning over a fourth of the state’s workforce is affected by licensing restrictions.
This form of regulation has quickly become one of the most significant and restrictive factors affecting labor markets across the Yellowhammer State.
In 2015, the Institute for Justice completed a national study titled License to Work national study, ranked Alabama as being the 24th most extensively and onerously licensed state. Part of the reason for Alabama’s ranking is that the state regulates many professions that aren’t widely licensed elsewhere in the country. For example, Alabama has licensing requirements for auctioneers, tree trimmers, locksmiths, salon hair shampooers, massage therapists, and sign language interpreters, among many other jobs.
Here’s what the study found of occupational licenses in Alabama:
- Number of low-income occupations licensed: 47
- Percentage of 102 low-income occupations licensed: 46%
- Average fees: $328 (which is only exceeded by four states)
- Average education and experience (in days): 182 days
Currently, occupational licensing is carried out at the state level, leaving the state Legislature to decide what occupations to license, as well as the extent of the licensing requirements. While the licenses are intended is “to ensure quality and reputability in specified professions by restricting unqualified or unscrupulous personnel from practicing,” research suggests all of these regulations and red tape are accomplishing little more than creating unnecessary barriers for those who want to work.
In our nation’s capital lawmakers have begun to tackle the tackle the issue and are working “to identify and eliminate excessive occupational licensure.” In April, Michigan-Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg introduced the New HOPE Act, to allow governors to use existing federal funds for technical education and do just that. And he’s not alone. Texas-Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn has introduced similar legislation in the Senate.
“The data has shown that simply adding layers of licensing rules does not yield better safety outcomes in most fields. It’s also important to note that there are other ways to promote safety for workers and the public,” Walberg explained to Forbes. “Through inspections or insurance and registration requirements, states can protect consumers without full licenses. Where licensing laws have become too excessive, it’s time for state policymakers to roll them back to create greater opportunity for aspiring workers and entrepreneurs.”
Here’s a look at 47 of moderate-income occupations licensed in Alabama: