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The single best anti-poverty program is a job. So why does government at all levels make it so hard to get one?

In my home state of Tennessee, for example, it takes 300 hours of training to be licensed to shampoo hair. That’s right: 300 hours. That training covers things like applying shampoo, rinsing and conditioning and answering the phone and taking appointments. Shampoo hair without a license, and you can get six months in jail.

I think I could teach everything you need to know about shampooing in under an hour: Don’t get it in people’s eyes, keep a sharp lookout for lice and rinse thoroughly when you’re done. Answering the phone is something you can learn on your own.

But it gets worse. It turns out that, according to a lawsuit filed by the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a libertarian public-interest group, you can’t even get the 300-hour curriculum because there isn’t anyplace in Tennessee that teaches the course that is required to obtain the license. So to shampoo hair you have to get a full-scale cosmetologist license, which takes even longer and costs even more.

This is just a small example of the larger problem of restrictive occupational licensing, a problem so bad that even the usually regulation-friendly Obama White House has complained.

According to a paper posted on the White House blog, “Today, one-quarter of U.S. workers must have a state license to do their jobs, a five-fold increase since the 1950s. Including federal and local licenses, an even higher share of the workforce now has a license.”

But wait, it’s worse than that: “Licensing an occupation means that work in that occupation is only available to those with the time and means to fulfill licensing requirements. One study found that for a sample of low and middle-wage jobs, the average license requires around nine months of education and training and $209 in fees.”

As a lawyer, I grouse about the cost of maintaining my license, ranging from bar membership fees, to largely-useless continuing legal education courses that mostly seem like a subsidy to those who teach the courses, to special professional privilege taxes. But lawyers aren’t poor. For people trying to enter a trade — like shampooing hair — these burdens aren’t a nuisance, they can be a wall.

It might be worth it if these requirements saved lives, but it’s not clear that they do. What sort of protection does a shampoo license, or a massage license or an interior decorator’s license (yes, those exist) really provide?

The main thing that licenses do is keep out competition and thus increase prices for politically connected industries. According to the White House paper, “More restrictive licensing raises prices for goods and services provided by licensed professionals by between three and 16%.”

Here in Tennessee, we’re making a little progress. Besides the Beacon Center’s lawsuit, the legislature passed State Rep. Martin Daniel’s and State Sen. Mark Green’s “Right To Earn A Living Act,” which requires various state boards and commissions that regulate people’s right to,  earn a living justify their regulations and licenses. That’s… Read full article from USA Today’s Glenn Reynolds HERE.

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