Occupational Licensing Costs Hurt Working Class Michiganders

Which profession requires upwards of $10,000 in education costs, over $200 in state fees, and 1,800 hours of training to enter: emergency medical technician (EMT) or barber?

The correct answer is barber.

In terms of time and cost, a prospective EMT can obtain an occupational license, required by the state of Michigan, much more easily than a prospective barber. For example, Baker College’s EMT certification program costs $6,600 and takes six months to complete. Completing a barber certification program in Michigan takes two years.

This example is not to criticize EMTs or question their ability to do their job but to praise the fact that their certification burden is less. Shorter and simpler requirements are better for EMTs and patients. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the EMT profession will grow 24 percent from 2014 to 2024, while the barber profession will grow 10 percent. Simplifying the certification processes will allow people to become EMTs more quickly and meet the growing demand.

In a 2012 study, the Institute for Justice looked at licensing requirements. In Michigan, the burden to obtain a barber’s license was the 9th-greatest of the 42 occupations studied, while the EMT's burden ranked 22nd. IJ also reported that an average of 26 days of education is necessary for an EMT’s license but a barber's license requires 467.

Simplified licensing procedures do not correlate with unprofessional behavior among EMTs. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, since 2010, only one EMT was reported for breaking protocol. Furthermore, a shorter certification process need not lead to poorly trained EMTs. As with most careers, much of an EMT's training takes place on the job and through continuing education courses.

Occupational licenses disproportionally harm the poor. Although most middle-class individuals could pay at least $10,000 to get a barber’s license, people with lower incomes cannot afford these costs, so they are not able to become licensed. Minority workers are also more affected.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, barbers earned a median salary of $23,710 in 2015, or $11.40 an hour. EMTs in 2015 earned a median salary of $31,980, or $15.38 an hour.

Proponents of occupational licenses usually say they safeguard public health. In reality, licenses burden low and middle-income families, while providing negligible benefits to the public. An EMT’s job is certainly health-related, but a barber’s job does not require government involvement. And no evidence shows that adding more requirements to the EMT license, or the state's requirements for the barber, protects the public.

Michigan should remove occupational licenses that are not shown to protect public health and safety. The state's rules for barbers, manicurists, cosmetologists, and other lines of work are overly broad and do not serve consumers.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.