Who’s Afraid of African Hair Braiders?

| June 26 2012

By Byron Schlomach, Ph.D.

Why are cosmetology boards so obsessed with African hair braiders? African hair braiding is a technique of braiding hair into intricate patterns without using any dangerous chemicals. And even though cosmetology schools rarely, if ever, teach the art, at least every other year a story appears somewhere in the country about an African immigrant or American teenager ordered by a cosmetology board to stop braiding hair for money.

The latest installment comes from an article in The New York Times Magazine, featuring a Sierra Leone immigrant in Colorado who has been denied a livelihood in the name of required government licensing. That article says 30 percent of the workforce today is required to have a license to perform their jobs. Other economists put the estimate at around 20 percent of American workers. Regardless, the author of the Times article got it right: licensing requirements blocks opportunity. It keeps enterprising Americans from moving up the economic ladder by starting their own businesses.

Though Arizona is not the worst of states when it comes to state licensing, the Institute for Justice recently produced a report rating Arizona the worst state – the very worst – when it comes to regulating certain low-income occupations. Combining the number of regulated low-income professions with the high bar of fees and red tape to get a license, we do more than any other state to deny people job opportunities by requiring they have a government license.

In a state with a lot of low-income workers, this is not a good place to be. Do we want people receiving government benefits or creating wealth so they can take care of their own families?

It’s time to rein in professional licensing. Here’s how:

  • Only a minority of licensing board members should come from the licensed professions.
  • The state should transition out of licensing and into certification for most currently licensed professions. Certification would allow both certified and uncertified professionals to practice a profession but require people to disclose their certification status. As part of this transition, the state should preempt local licensing with certification laws.

If Arizona takes on its burdensome professional licensing requirements, we will have an economically healthier state where opportunity for all can truly blossom.

Dr. Byron Schlomach is the director of the Goldwater Institute‘s Center for Economic Prosperity.

Learn more:

New York Times Magazine: “So You Think You Can Be a Hair Braider?”

Institute for Justice: License to Work: A Study of Burdens from Occupational Licensing (PDF)

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