The Society-Wide Human Cost of Occupational Licensing

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Apply this principle — from a Reason interview with a Boston hair stylist:

If people want to work in Zona’s salons, in virtually any capacity, they must first obtain a cosmetologist license from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. That’s true even for positions that don’t have anything to do with cutting, coloring, or styling hair. Even shampooing or blow-drying hair, or being a stylist’s assistant—the types of entry-level jobs that allow someone to test out the profession before deciding whether to work in it—must be filled only by licensed professionals. …

These one-size-fits-all licensing rules make it harder to find new employees. They also contribute to high turnover in the profession, Zona says, because newly minted cosmetologists who never had a chance to try an entry-level job before getting a license often leave the profession because it’s different from what they expected. That’s not good for businesses, which want a stable workforce, and it’s even worse for those workers who wasted thousands of dollars and months of their lives.

This can’t be a problem only in hair styling, and if we consider the cost in human potential (for people who never find their vocation because of licensing walls) as well as in innovation (due to the loss of variety and perspectives), licensing is doing real harm to our entire society.

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I’ve been extremely fortunate to be (for whatever reason) the sort of person whom others ask to do something when they just can’t find anybody.  I’ve done sales, teaching, graphic design, construction, and countless one-off projects for pay and as a volunteer.  Some of those efforts turned out better than others (some ended pretty badly), but that’s life, and outcomes vary dramatically even for people who go through years of training, but they’ve already invested so much that their options are limited.



  • Rhett Hardwick

    That’s not good for businesses, which want a stable workforce

    I have always been of the impression that hair styling salons usually just rent out chairs. The stylists are not employees. Or, perhaps that is the result of an unstable workforce.

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