By Jamaal Gill
The rise of occupational licensing has become a major concern to Florida’s businesses. These regulations affect everyone from doctors to restauranteurs; barbers to financial advisors. The main justifications for occupational licensing are the promotion of consumer welfare, public health, and a higher quality service. However, in many professions, occupational licensing keeps barriers to entry high while providing little benefit to public health and safety.
An occupational license is a statewide certification that one must acquire in order to conduct business in the state legally. Consider the effect of occupational licensing on barbers. In order to become a licensed barber in Florida, one must first enroll in an accredited barber school. After completing 1200 hours of training to graduate, one can apply for a barber’s license. As of December 1, 2015, the application fee was $178. The application must be approved by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Once approved, the applicant waits for contact from a designated testing service in order to complete a three and a half hour long exam. On average, the cost of completing the schooling, application and permit fees is around $10,000 from a public institution. If training is received at a private institution, the average cost of schooling increases to around $20,000.
One way to evaluate Florida’s licensing system is to compare it with other states. In New York, barbers are required to complete only 288 educational hours and an apprenticeship in order to be licensed. Florida’s licensing requirements exceed this by 912 hours.
Another way to evaluate Florida’s occupational licensing system is to measure the cost of obtaining a license as a proportion of annual income. A barber working 40 hours a week and making the state’s average hourly wage of $12.93 can expect to make $28,430 a year. With an average cost of obtaining a license of $10,000 or $20,000, these regulatory costs make up roughly 35% to 77%, respectively, of a barber’s annual salary; a substantial burden.
The suitability of tests needed to obtain occupational licenses is another criterion for evaluation. According to interviews with local Tallahassee barbers, the skills and techniques learned in barber school were not applicable for use in their profession. Practical skills needed to perform popular haircuts like fades weren’t taught unless students personally sought out such training on their own time. According to Lionel Skinner at Tallahassee’s Renegade Barber Shop, “The amount of time spent in class doing nothing could be better spent building the skills that are needed to become a qualified and efficient barber. Overall, the process leads to less quality barbers.”
Licensing requirements are costly (in both money and time) to would-be workers and may not even provide the skills they need to do their jobs. Higher wages mean higher prices for consumers, but public health and safety are not necessarily protected.
States have increased the number of occupations that must be licensed, as well as the requirements to obtain licenses. According to a report released by the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, over twenty-five percent of American workers must have an occupational license in their field. As self-employment trends upward, there is increasing pressure to reduce the barriers to entry for new entrepreneurs. The current limitations in place to become a barber or other licensed professional are too onerous in the state of Florida, preventing future entrepreneurs from entering the industries they wish to work in.