Pop quiz: Which person must do the most to fulfill the occupational requirements imposed by the state of Michigan?
- The chef (who prepares your food)
- The auto mechanic (who installs your brakes)
- The EMT (who saves your life)
- The painter (who makes your house or barn look good)
- The airline pilot (who flies you to see family and friends)
- The barber (who cuts your hair)
You’ll find the answers at the end of this piece, but don’t feel bad if you’re off. Most people know little about the licensing laws the state of Michigan imposes on people wishing to work in certain occupations. It says that someone holding any one of roughly 200 different jobs here must pay state fees, meet certain educational requirements and take one or more exams, simply to be allowed to provide a service. The worker’s skill level or consumer’s desire doesn’t matter.
These mandates are arbitrary, typically exist at the behest of special interest groups, usually provide little or no protection for residents and raise costs on consumers by 15 to 30 percent. And because most government licensing schemes restrict people with a criminal background from working, research suggests they contribute to a higher crime rate by providing incentives for illegal activity.
So what can legislators do? How do they protect the public — by only regulating in ways that make sense — while allowing people to flourish without government getting in the way?
First, the state should set up a “sunrise” and “sunset” review process for current and proposed occupational licenses. An independent board should be empowered to analyze regulations already on the books, plus any proposed in the future, looking at them strictly from the standpoint of health and safety. This review would prevent the vagaries of the political process from keeping people out of an industry. A committee in 2012 analyzed occupational licensing and called for eliminating state requirements covering two dozen jobs and changing many others. The Legislature has adopted some of these recommendations, and a review of this kind should be a regular event.
Second, Michigan should get rid of “good moral character” provisions in its licensing system, as well as outright bans on occupational licenses for people with criminal records. For occupations that do need to be licensed — like those in the medical field -— people should still go through a background check, but they should only be denied a license if their crime is directly related to the area they want to work in. Right now, the state denies licenses to ex-convicts and even those who have committed only civil infractions. States with the highest licensing requirements have recidivism rates growing five times faster than those with the lowest mandates.
Third, the state should prevent local governments from having their own licensing rules. This means no extra fees and requirements: A person qualified to be a builder or electrician in Kalamazoo should also be allowed to work in Grand Rapids. And there is no reason Detroit should be piling extra regulations on top of people who want to wash windows or cut grass. But it does.
OK, so how’d you do on the quiz? Chefs are unlicensed, needing zero hours of mandatory training. Auto mechanics take a six-hour course and one test. EMTs need 30 to 45 hours of training. Painters must have 60 hours of class time. Airline pilots flying commercial jets are regulated by the federal government, and need 1,500 hours of instruction. And barbers must complete 1,800 hours.
This does not mean that the only training workers get is that which the state requires. Far from it. Most people work in jobs that do not require a license, but they still get the training and education they need to do the job. That should be the case for far more people in Michigan.