Barriers to entry: Occupational licensing laws hold Michigan back

About 160 occupations in Michigan now require a license

Getting licensed to represent a client in a Michigan court requires fewer classroom hours than you would need if you just wanted to cut that client’s hair.

Aspiring lawyers in this state need to complete a mere 1,200 hours of classroom education, while barbers must put in a staggering 1,800 hours of coursework.

It's a head-scratching paradox that raises the question: Does a sharp legal argument require less sharpening than a quality haircut?

Occupational licensing creates a hindrance to economic growth, and it's not just barbers who are affected. Many blue collar workers find themselves caught in a system where they are required to invest a substantial amount of time and money, often outweighing the wages they anticipate earning in their chosen profession. This burden can make it impossible to thrive.

Licensing imposes a range of requirements on individuals entering licensed professions, including additional training, education, fees, exams and paperwork. Stringent requirements lead to reduced employment opportunities in licensed occupations, stifling competition and increasing the price of goods and services for consumers.

While licensing has a role in the society — nobody wants an unlicensed lawyer or doctor — Michigan has extended the scope of licensing requirements beyond what can be justified by public safety, health or security.

Approximately 160 occupations in Michigan now require a license. But for many of these professions, the risk to the public of an unlicensed worker is minimal. Do individuals really need go through 1,500 hours in college and incur associated fees up to $230 to pursue a career in cosmetology? Such regulation can create roadblocks to entrepreneurship and hinder economic growth.

The rate of at which Michigan adds occupational licensing requirements has increased in the past few decades. In 1950, only 5% of jobs required workers to obtain occupational licenses. Today, that figure is closer to 25%.

By streamlining the licensing process and evaluating the necessity of licensing in various professions, Michigan could promote economic growth, increase job opportunities, and empower entrepreneurs to thrive without excessive barriers to entry.

Will Young is a Michigan Capitol Confidential intern.

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.