Hair Braiding: The Fight Against Occupational Licensing
Unnecessary occupational licensing laws limit free market competition and discourage employment by preventing people from entering the workforce. In recent years, hair braiding has been a focus of licensing battles within state courts and legislatures. Late last week, Arkansas and Iowa both took initial steps to expand opportunities for hair braiding businesses.
In Arkansas, a bill that would exempt hair braiding from state cosmetology regulations, HB 1177, passed through The House of Representatives and now sits in the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee. This bill would provide certification to professional hair braiders following a certain period of practice.
Similarly, a House subcommittee in Iowa has approved HF 31, which would exempt hair braiding from the definition of cosmetology. Currently in Iowa, a person must attend cosmetology school, which can cost anywhere between $6,000 to $20,000, and complete 2,100 hours of training in order to legally braid hair. A majority of training in cosmetology is unrelated to hair braiding, and so people must spend hundreds of hours training in hair cutting and coloring practices they will never use as natural hair braiders. If enacted, HF 31 would require professional hair braiders to complete far fewer hours and ensure training is more specific to the job, as opposed to what is necessary for a cosmetology license. This bill now moves to the House State Government Committee.
Occupational licensing has become burdensome, limiting and responsible for increases in unemployment. One in three American jobs requires a license to work. The overregulation of America’s workforce reduces market competition by discouraging new entrants into the marketplace. Furthermore, the cost of up to $20,000 and the 2,000 hour time commitment required by this occupational licensing creates a barrier between employment and low-income and disadvantaged populations.
Arkansas and Iowa are following states such as Florida, Virginia, South Carolina and Minnesota who have deregulated certain hair practices over the past four years. Most recently in Texas, a federal judge found it unconstitutional for the state to require a hair braiding school to obtain a license as a fully-equipped barber college.
These types of reforms are vital to free market competition as well as creating new opportunities for employment. While hair braiding is one example, it is time states examine their occupational licensing laws across the board. States should enforce licensing laws based on necessity, for example public health and safety risks, and ease the restrictions in areas deemed overly burdensome.
The Institute of Justice, a public interest law firm, has been a leader in fighting burdensome occupational licensure and has taken multiple cases to court fighting for the deregulation of hair braiding practices.