Drop the Shampoo and Step Away From the Hair


February 29, 2016 9:25AM

In the spring of 2014, a Memphis beauty salon got busy, and the shop owner asked one of the manicurists to help wash a few ladies’ hair to help them catch up. As she swirled the shampoo into one customer’s scalp, in walked a government agent who caught her red-handed breaking the law. How on earth was she breaking the law, you ask? She had the audacity to shampoo someone’s hair without a government license.

The poor manicurist was fined $1,000 for the heinous act of cleansing heads without being licensed as a “shampoo technician.” Yes, in Tennessee, you must first obtain government’s permission before washing hair. And you have to obtain a license to do 110 other jobs as well.

Occupational licensing is out of control. As if requiring government approval to practice a trade wasn’t bad enough, most licensing schemes come with expensive entry fees, unnecessary tests, and sometimes even schooling. Of course, this makes sense for doctors and lawyers, but these rules even apply to you if you want to be a makeup artist, locksmith, massage therapist, or “milk sampler” (whatever that is).

The cost of getting a job

Many occupations that necessitate a license are considered low- or moderate-income jobs. Tennessee requires a license for 53 such occupations, more than 41 other states. The average cost to obtain a license for these jobs is $218, with more than seven months of training in advance.

Makeup artists, for example, must spend $190, spend 175 days in school, and take two exams before picking up the eyeliner. Shampoo technicians must spend 70 days in the classroom (amounting to about $3,000 in tuition costs), take two exams, and fork over $140 for a license. [Ed’s note: To clarify, the $140 fee is to take the two exams. The license itself is an additional $50, leading to an actual total cost of $190 to obtain a license.] For many Tennesseans seeking to enter these fields, licensing schemes put these jobs out of reach.

All this for what?

Proponents of licensing laws claim they are necessary to protect consumers. Yet, the vast majority of licensed trades have absolutely no relation to health, safety, and welfare. For example, according to the Institute for Justice, “the average cosmetologist spends 372 days in training; the average EMT only 33.” You read that right. It takes 10 times longer to be approved to cut hair than to save someone’s life.

Most licensing laws harm consumers by driving up prices and limiting their choices. That’s why these laws are often proposed and lobbied for by those already in a given occupation. They are a great way to use the heavy hand of government to limit oneself from competition.

The solution

Rather than impose costly and harmful licensing laws on Tennesseans just seeking to earn an honest living, we should reward them for wanting to work hard and provide for their family. That’s what the Right to Earn a Living Act would do, slated to be heard in the legislature this week. The bill would require a review of all existing licensing schemes, make it harder to enact new ones, and give those harmed by licensing laws the opportunity to challenge their necessity. For Tennesseans like the manicurist who is $1,000 poorer because she touched someone’s hair, the Right to Earn a Living Act is long overdue.