Do we really need so many occupational licenses?

BY RONALD FRASER Published: June 30, 2012

Not all occupation licensing laws in Oklahoma City actually protect Oklahoma consumers from harm and shoddy workmanship. It's pretty clear that many of these laws misuse state sanctions to protect existing businesses from unwanted competition. Now a new study by the Washington-based Institute for Justice can help Oklahoma lawmakers decide which of these laws serve the public, and should stay, and which should go.

The report examines licensing practices for 102 lower-wage occupations in all 50 states. If you want to work in one of the 29 occupations licensed in Oklahoma you may need to meet a minimum age requirement, demonstrate a certain level of often-irrelevant experience and training, pass an exam that may have little to do with your job, and pay a licensing fee.

Some licensing requirements make sense. But of the 102 occupations reviewed, only seven — cosmetologist, pest control applicator, school bus driver, city bus driver, emergency medical technician, truck driver and vegetation pesticide handler — are regulated in Oklahoma and all other states.

Beyond these occupations with widely recognized public health and safety issues, the report questions licensing many others. “Occupational practitioners,” the authors write, “often through professional associations, use the power of concentrated interests to lobby state legislators for protection from competition through licensing laws.”

How can you tell if a license is really needed? First, if consumers in more than half of the states get along without regulating workers, there's a good chance Oklahoma's licensing requirements aren't necessary. Here are some occupations licensed in Oklahoma and a few other states: social and human services assistant, locksmith, animal trainer, animal control officer, title examiner, packager and school sports coach. Licensing such trades is unnecessary and foolish.

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