The Guild-ed Age
Progress on Licensing in the Cornhusker State

Political and legal momentum against gratuitous occupational licensing regulations has been building over the last year: The Texas Supreme Court ruled that some of the state’s licensing requirements are so onerous as to be unconstitutional; a U.S. Senator recently held hearings on whether professional organizations promulgating these rules run afoul of federal anti-trust laws; and even deep-blue California is looking for ways to encourage employment and enterprise by revising its particularly onerous professional credentialing system.

And now Nebraska’s state government has taken a modest but meaningful step to curb runaway licensing in the state. The Daily Signal reports:

Just two weeks ago, Nebraskans who wanted to make money braiding hair had to undergo 2,100 hours of training to obtain a cosmetology license, which state officials say dedicates little time to natural hair braiding techniques.

But now Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, has signed legislation into law that will lift arduous occupational licensing requirements on the state’s hair braiders.

State Sen. Nicole Fox, R-Omaha, who introduced the legislation, said cosmetology licensing in the state requires nearly two years of schooling and costs $20,000 to $22,000 in tuition.

Changes to hair braiding regulations in a state with under two million people might not seem like a particularly significant development in the broader context of American economic policy. But licensing regulations as a whole—especially in working class professions like hair braiding, eyebrow threading, tree trimming, and so on—have been becoming steadily more intrusive over the last several decades, depressing wages for the majority of workers and quashing social mobility. According to one study, the share of workers who require has grown from five to 35 percent since 1950.

Reforming the system so that it works in the interests of consumers who need protection—rather than guild insiders looking to hoard their market share—will probably be an incremental process undertaken at the state level. Hopefully other states will follow Nebraska’s lead.

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