Do We Really Need To License Barbers?

Elected officials are always trying to find ways to create jobs or improve the lives of folks living in poverty by raising the minimum wage. Small business entrepreneurs are key to creating jobs and one of the best approaches government officials can take is to lessen burdensome licensing and regulations.

Erica Smith an attorney with the Institute For Justice has written an interesting post titled A License to Kill New York’s Economy. Ms. Smith’s article highlights some amazing licensing requirements imposed in New York State:

– A cosmetologist or massage therapist must have 233 days of education and experience to get the state’s blessing to work.

– A veterinary technologist needs two years of schooling — not to be a veterinarian, mind you, but to assist a veterinarian. Emergency medical technicians in New York — who literally hold human lives in their hands — are only required to have 35 days of training to do their job.

– Would-be barbers in New York must suffer through 884 days of training and three exams.

– Would-be manicurists to get 58 days of training and pass two exams to win a license; Alaska demands only about three days, Iowa about nine.

A recent report by the Institute for Justice,License to Work, ranks New York the 19th-worst state when it comes to licensure burdens. “Imagine how difficult it is to meet these requirements while working another job; imagine an unemployed person trying to live off savings or family members as he or she jumps through these government-mandated hoops” states Smith.

As the License to Work report points out, there is great variation among states as to what occupations are regulated.

“On average, the 102 occupations we studied are licensed in just 22 states—fewer than half. Only 15 occupations are licensed in 40 states or more. Even allowing for variation in states that may change the nature or popularity of some occupations across borders, this lack of consistency is suspect. For the vast majority of these licensed occupations, many people are practicing elsewhere without government permission and apparently without widespread harm.

Consider the same point from the perspective of the states. All of the 102 occupations studied are licensed somewhere. Louisiana, Arizona and California license more than 60 of the 102 occupations in this report, while Oklahoma, Colorado, Indiana, South Dakota, Kentucky, Vermont and Wyoming license fewer than 30. The average state licenses 43. Clearly, many states are doing just fine by leaving their citizens free to pursue occupations that other states license.”

In addition to state licensing requirements, many local governments impose their own additional licenses. In the Town of Tonawanda, New York where I reside businesses are required to pay a yearly license fee for every pool table and video game they have on their premises. I don’t see the health and safety reason for licensing pool tables and video games, yet every year local businesses have to fill out paper work and pay a fee.

We need elected officials at the state and local level to address the rationality of licensing requirements.

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Henry Brown

The licensing requirements are usually/sometimes are rooted in some basis for wanting to control whatever is being licensed…

Another thing that drives licensing is the contributions made to the official(s) doing the licensing… Heaven forbid we should dry up that source of contributions (SARCASM intended)

Corey McCarren

I know some New York barbers that could really use a do-over for those 884 training days… No, I did not ask for the Vanilla Ice, thank you very much.

David Dejewski

Wow… this is cool information. Along the lines of obsolete laws, the IRS tax code, and the hiring and firing process for civil servants.

As for barbers… It takes about 3 minutes to shave a head baby smooth. I run and swim with less drag, never have to worry about head lice, and produce more vitamin D on a sunny day than most supplements. All without a patent, a prescription, or FDA regulation. 🙂

Tamsin Abotteen

I agree that a look at licensing needs to be looked at but the requirement of receiving the license is the training and hands-on experience, which is beneficial for any person looking for a job to have, just like a college degree…This sets them a part from individuals that have not had the experience and training.

This required training not only helps the individual pursuing this career but also their future employer. As a daughter of salon-owners, the ability to have employees that can essentially start working on day-1 since they’ve already had the basic training saves the owner time and money, instead of the owner having to invest time into training the employee themselves, and for a small-business owner this is important.

Carl Willis-Ford

need to have some due diligence on sources. for example, the 884 days of ‘training’ to be a barber includes 2 years of paid apprenticeship…not quite like just going to school. Of course, the original blog writer wanted to make it sound worse to reinforce his opinion, a practice I find pretty lame.

Carol Davison

I would like to see a comparison of the injuries (wounds and bad hair) inflicted on the least train and the most trained. that should demonstrate the necessity of licensing.

William Lim

As an attorney in state licensing enforcement, I see several good reasons for professional licensing (some of which are mentioned by other commenters here).

1. Licensing is a marketable credential that reflects the culmination of years of formal or apprenticeship training. Citizens should be able to rely on licensure as a measure of quality control. Would you rather hire a plumber whose has a license number on his business card, his truck, and his website, or would you rather go down to the guy in the Home Depot parking lot? Some industries I’ve worked with in the past, such as financial planners and massage therapists, actually want official licensure (not just trade association certification) in order to confer legitimacy and accountability to their profession.

2. The threat of license suspension or revocation protects consumers in ways that ordinary civil malpractice lawsuits cannot. Very few plaintiffs’ malpractice attorneys, who work for contingency fees, will take a case where the expected monetary payout won’t be worth their while. I once heard a prominent med-mal plaintiffs’ lawyer say at a seminar that he generally won’t take a case where expected damages are under $10,000 because it’s not economical for his firm. However, licensing enforcement can take place regardless of the amount of a consumer’s economic loss, and we can and have ordered full restitution. Another example: one of my colleagues recently obtained a temporary surrender of a fire/burglar alarm contractor’s license. He had been arrested the week before on child porn charges. Do you want him going into your house to work on your alarms while he’s out on bail?

3. Two responses to the argument that licensing poses unnecessary regulatory hurdles to business. First, the impetus to license a profession comes from legislatures, not civil servants. Our authority comes from state law, while our regulations are subject to periodic sunset and renewal. Regulated industries are represented by trade associations with sophisticated lobbying and litigation counsel. I believe that the political process is a generally effective means by which to reach a balance between industry and regulators. Second, in almost every industry and in almost every state I have encountered, the ultimate decisionmakers on licensing issues are examining boards comprised of practitioners. These board members are typically unpaid and serve at the pleasure of the governor, and are lucky to get a mileage per diem to get to meetings. They are subject to applicable civil service laws during their term of service. More importantly, as practitioners, they have the necessary expertise to oversee their industry’s licensing regulations – there is accountability behind the faceless bureaucrat in the licensing office.

It is too easy to just laugh at requiring barbers to have a license. Then I go watch Sweeney Todd and it’s not so funny anymore.

My views are personal and do not reflect those of my employer.