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Marketplace Morning Report

Do you really need a license to do your job?

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Jul 30, 2015
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Nivea Earl has been doing African-style hair braiding for the past 16 years.

“So it’s just kind of like a love and a passion for me,” she says.

Earl decided to open a hair braiding shop in Jacksonville, Arkansas, three years ago. 

She soon learned that she  first needed to go to school to become a licensed cosmetologist. Trained, not in braiding, but in cutting, dyeing and washing hair. Even though, as a hair braider, she wouldn’t do any of those things.

“I would have had to have gone to cosmetology school, to pay thousands of dollars for something that they do not even teach,” she says.

It’s not just hair braiding. States are requiring licenses for more and more jobs. Florists, security guards — even dog trainers can need licenses.

“In the 1950s, about 5 percent of the workforce were licensed at the state level,” says Morris Kleiner, an economist at the University of Minnesota and visiting scholar at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. “That number has grown to 25 percent.”

The White House has issued a report that says the increased licensing requirements drive up prices. And it’s harder for workers to move because licensing laws vary from state to state, and states don’t recognize each other’s licenses. Kleiner, who served as a consultant on the White House report, says voluntary certification would work better than mandatory licensing. The certification could be done by states or trade associations. 

But that has its own pitfalls.

“Some of these organizations are really looking at certification programs as a source of revenue for their organization,” says Kim Weeden, a professor of sociology at Cornell University.

Weeden says there’s a whole industry devoted to selling certifications, and nobody’s regulating it.

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