Let’s say you want to change careers. Or maybe you’re a recent graduate thinking about what you’d like to do as you enter the workforce. Like an increasing number of American workers, you might find that stiff requirements to get an occupational license stand in the way.
In theory, occupational license requirements come from a desire to protect the public from harm by someone practicing a profession in an incompetent or unsafe manner. Often, that makes sense. Doctors must have a license to practice medicine, for example. To get that license they must prove that they have the necessary education — because if they don’t, patients could be seriously harmed.
However, an increasing number of professions now require a license to practice somewhere in America, and not all of this growth is born of strong public health and safety concerns. In 1950, just 5 percent of the American workforce needed a license to do their job – now it’s nearly 30 percent. In Louisiana, for example, you need a license to be a florist. In 21 states, you’ll need a license to be a travel guide.
The growth in occupational licensing is a concern for many individuals and groups on both sides of the partisan aisle. Free market and libertarian groups like the Institute for Justice and Americans for Prosperity, centrist think tanks like the Brookings Institute, and former president Barack Obama have all advocated for reforms in occupational licensing.
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