Different licensing requirements in states and across occupations highlight these laws’ unreasonableness.
A major issue with occupational licensure laws is that they are not uniformly or strategically implemented. If these licenses really did provide a benefit to the public, they should be applied consistently to the occupations that supposedly require them. Instead what has happened across the United States and within states themselves is that these licensing laws are created arbitrarily. This suggests that what is driving the creation of occupational licenses is not lawmakers’ interest in protecting consumers, but rather the interests of those who stand to benefit from these licensing requirements — namely, people already licensed or who are grandfathered in to a license.
A 2012 report from the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm based in Washington, D.C., examined 102 occupational licenses affecting lower-to-moderate-income workers in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Of these 102 licenses, only 15 were required in 40 states or more and the average was only 22 states. Similarly, an analysis from the Goldwater Institute found that fewer than 30 occupations are licensed in all 50 states with most of those being in the medical field: dentists, doctors, nurses, therapists, etc. All this goes to show that there is very little consistency among the states concerning which occupations should require a license.
A broader look at all the licenses across the United States finds a total of more than 1,100 occupations subject to licensure in at least one state. But fewer than 60 — or about 5 percent — were used in every state. In addition, even if a license is required in several states, standards vary widely. For example:
- Cosmetologists in South Dakota need a total of 490 days of education and work experience, must pass three exams and meet age and grade completion requirements to get a licenses, but those in Massachusetts need only 233 days of education and experience and there are no minimum age or grade level requirements.
- Barbers need more than three years of school or training — 890 days — and must pass four exams in Nevada, but need only six months of training and have to pass just two exams in Wyoming.
- Alaska requires emergency medical technicians to obtain a total of 140 days of education and work experience and to pass two exams, but the District of Columbia requires no education or training at all for an EMT license.
- Amateur pilots need only 40 hours of flight time and commercial pilots typically need about 1,500 hour of total flight time on their way to become legally licensed to fly. Pilots who flew U.S. passengers and cargo needed only 250 hours of flight time until 2013. It is unlikely that flying airplanes is considered less dangerous than practicing cosmetology (which requires 1,500 hours of training) or being a funeral director (which requires four years of college and training).