Over the course of two generations, the percentage of workers in the U.S. who are required to hold a license to do their job has gone from 5 percent to about 30 percent. Some of that increase is due, no doubt, to the increasing technological sophistication of modern society – the set of skills an auto mechanic needed in 1950 would never suffice in 2015, for example.
Some of the licensing is clearly safety driven – and some of it just makes good sense. But consider this: In 21 states, you must have a license to be a travel guide. In Nevada, a travel guide must train for 733 days before being able to earn a license, which costs $1,500. Florists, hair braiders, upholsterers, manicurists and many others also need licenses in some states to legally perform their work, and many if not all licensed professionals must regularly renew those licenses, also for a fee.
The findings of the Brookings' commissioned paper Reforming Occupational Licensing Policies (PDF) matter to DC because there are more than 100 boards and commissions and laws in every nook and cranny of the DC Code related to licensure, accreditation, and training. There are, for example, boards for accountancy, social work, barber and cosmetology, chiropractic, industrial trades, and veterinary medicine.
DC Council committee staff and chairs should take the time to read the Brookings report and use it to jump start oversight in the hearings staring the week of February 9. Upon completion of FY 2016 budget consideration, the council should turn to top-to-bottom review of licensure with the goal being to right-size systems to protect the public balanced against too much or out-of-whack certification requirements.