The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
On April 10 of this year, Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill to recognize all out-of-state occupational licenses in Arizona. Arizona is the first state in the country to pass such legislation, setting a shining example in occupational licensing reform. If Governor Ducey and the Arizona legislature can keep momentum building after this success, Arizona serves to become a more welcoming workplace for all — and countless opportunities would open up to low-income Arizonans in particular.
After signing the license reciprocity bill into law, Governor Ducey stated, “Arizona’s sending a clear message to people across the country: if you’re moving to Arizona, there’s opportunity waiting for you here.” This action was unprecedented, and Arizonans should be proud that their government is taking active steps toward creating a more accessible workforce. But ultimately, the new measures are lipstick on a pig. For thousands of Arizonans, occupational licensing still stands between them and economic opportunity.
The list of occupations that require licensing in Arizona is as lengthy as it is arbitrary. Athletic trainers, cosmetologists, barbers, massage therapists — hopeful workers must all complete arduous education and experience requirements and pay exorbitant fees, though none of them engage in high-risk work. A low-income person with a natural talent for cosmetology cannot simply open a cosmetology practice under current licensing laws. If she can not afford the fees associated with cosmetology licensing, she will be shut out of the system.
Arizona is the fourth most broadly licensed state in the nation, according to the Institute for Justice’s License to Work study. Many Arizonans would agree that a system of vetting and quality control is important for many professions — in matters of life and death, for example.
Those who keep hearts beating and lungs breathing for a living should be required to meet certain standards. But what does it say about the integrity of Arizona’s licensing system when sign language interpreters are required to pay fees that are 10 times higher than EMTs must pay in order to get licensed? Or that a manicurist must log nearly six times as many education hours as an EMT to receive a license?
The deeper one digs, the more inane these requirements seem. Cosmetologists must log 1,600 education hours before becoming licensed. Massage therapists must log 700. The fact that milk samplers, taxidermists and travel guides require licensing in the first place indicates that this system is indeed broken.
Occupational licensing laws, though they claim to maintain quality and safety in given professions, only serve as barriers to entry. Low-income professions are disproportionately regulated in Arizona, meaning that poor and low-skill individuals are routinely shut out of opportunities that would allow them to better their situations. In a nutshell, occupational licensing keeps the least among us poor.
If Governor Ducey and the Arizona legislature genuinely care about creating a state full of opportunity, their attention needs to shift toward lighter licensing burdens for all. The risks that a consumer faces during a nail appointment and during an ambulance ride are in no way comparable — and the barriers to entry shouldn’t be either.
When politicians examine occupational licensing with a sensible eye, the people that they claim to be interested in helping are truly helped.