Occupational licensing laws harm people in subtle ways that are often difficult to detect. Millions of consumers spend slightly more on services because supply and competition are artificially limited. Thousands of workers persist in less preferred jobs because they cannot afford the requirements to get licensed to work in the field of their choice. But there are also those who are directly harmed by state licensing laws. Here are some examples.
Ntcharba Chabi is a hair braider trying to earn a living by running Blanca’s Braids in Garden City. After a competitor complained that Chabi was not properly licensed, she received a cease-and-desist order from the state and was fined. State regulators said she needed a cosmetology license even though this license is not required to braid hair. The problem was Chabi’s salon possessed a shampoo bowl and only licensed cosmetologists can charge customers for shampooing hair. Getting the license requires 1,500 hours of training, hundreds of dollars in fees and a test.
Austin Loose owes thousands of dollars for schooling and testing for training he will likely never use. While other states allow massage therapists to work without government-mandated training, Michigan requires 500 hours and passing a test. Austin and his twin brother Login went to school to learn massage therapy and graduated together. Austin’s learning disability, however, interfered with his ability to pass the final test. While Login got his license, Austin is stuck working lower-paid jobs.
Dr. Jan Pol is a veterinarian in rural Michigan who once starred in a reality TV show aired by National Geographic. An out-of-state vet reported him to the state for not wearing the proper surgical attire and failing to provide a warming pad for a dog. This stemmed from an incident where Pol saved a dog’s life after it was hit by a car. The dog’s owner made no complaints about the service Pol provided. Still, the state licensing department alleged negligence and incompetence under state law and slapped Pol with a fine and probation.
Mike Grennan is a carpenter and Laurence Reuben a nurse. But their past criminal mistakes restrict them from getting a license in their fields. Grennan can work for other construction companies or on jobs billed for less than a set amount of money, but he cannot work for himself. Reuben has a low-level felony conviction from New York state, but he went through a rehabilitation program and was legally working as a licensed nurse there. When he moved to Michigan, however, the state denied him a license because of his criminal record.
Donna Williams is a Michigan native who spent $25,000 and got nearly 500 hours of training in California to do makeup artistry. She has worked on film and video projects in Michigan, but her license doesn’t transfer or allow her to work as an esthetician or cosmetologist. “I’m going to be 67, I’m on a fixed income. I absolutely love Michigan, but you just can’t make enough money this way,” she said. Williams moved away from her home all the way to Las Vegas to find less regulated makeup jobs. “I was born and raised in Michigan,” she added. “Of course, I want to stay and use my talents in my home state, but my home state makes that almost impossible.”
Stephanie Brown owns a highly rated salon in Kalamazoo that specializes in hair braiding. A nearby competitor complained to the state that one of her employees was washing clients’ hair but did not have a license to practice cosmetology. “All it takes is someone who doesn’t like you and then there goes your business,” Brown said. The employee has since left, but Brown is still stuck paying the fines. The typical salon worker makes an annual salary around $30,000 per year but is required to take training that involves 25 times the hours that residential home builders must take.
Shaketra Payne is a certified natural hair culturist who braids hair. Many people need their hair to be recently washed to be properly braided. In order to wash hair in a salon, something done every day by people in their own homes, Michigan law mandates that a person have a cosmetology license that requires 1,500 hours of training. Payne had to turn away an elderly woman in a wheelchair because her hair was not clean enough to do dreadlocks. Lacking a cosmetology license, she could not legally wash this woman’s hair in her salon. “It just broke everybody's heart that she literally looked like she wanted to cry,” Payne said. “I'm not a cosmetologist, and I don't want to be a cosmetologist. I want to be a hair braider.” She added, “[I]t was just like a slap in the face that I can't even wash my own clients' hair.”