Regulatory Reform

Do You Have a Permit to Shovel That Snow?

As the Washington, D.C. region and much of the East Coast remain closed, and residents and city officials attempt to clear roads and sidewalks from one of the largest winter storms the region has seen in recent memory, a few entrepreneurial kids and teenagers see the storm as a way to help neighbors and perhaps make a little money as well. Of course, most people who have grown up in areas of moderate to heavy snowfall remember seeing friendly faces offer to shovel and salt the front of the yard or walkway for a fee. These usually young, enterprising dealmakers can usually expect a decent return for what is essentially the winter storm version of a lawn-mowing service.

While most parts of the country view this as a harmless way for kids and teenagers to learn some great life skills and earn some cash, this was the first year that New Jersey finally came around. It was only a few days before Winter Storm Jonas rocked the East when New Jersey lawmakers decided to lift a licensing requirement for shoveling snow – a requirement that stopped at least two teens from being able to find business last year when they were shut down by police. While cases like these recall memories of police closing down the lemonade stands of little girls, these types of licensing requirements are part of a much larger national problem.

When government licenses are discussed, usually professions such as doctors or lawyers come to mind. These specialized professions may have been the few that required licenses back in the 1950s, when only one in about 20 jobs required a government license. Today, however, nearly one in three occupations requires a license from government before any work can be done. For many states, this includes occupations such as interior designers, florists or hair braiders.

When government steps in and prevents individuals from using their skills and talents to enter the labor market by constructing arbitrary barriers to entry – occupational licensing usually the most costly and time consuming among them – everybody loses. State policymakers should carefully consider whether an occupational license is a legitimate consumer protection, whether it is reasonable to require a license to protect consumers from a potential harm, and whether there may be a less onerous way to protect consumers, such as inspections or insurance requirements.

It is certainly true that there is a role for occupational licenses when it comes to highly specialized occupations, like doctors and lawyers. But when occupational licensing laws prevent florists or snow-shoveling teenagers from being able to engage in their work, something has clearly gone awry. The American Legislative Exchange Council continues to work on ways in which state governments can re-examine the occupational licensing laws, where appropriate, so that everyone with an entrepreneurial spirit can make an honest living.

In Depth: Regulatory Reform

In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson said that “the sum of good government” was one “which shall restrain men from injuring one another” and “shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry.” Sadly, governments – both federal and state – have ignored this axiom and…

+ Regulatory Reform In Depth