THE BLOG
09/17/2014 01:31 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2014

Arbitrary Interior Design Regulations Hurt Entrepreneurs, Consumers

Homeowners hire interior designers to beautify their living space. It's an industry focused on style, design and aesthetics.

So, given the innocuous nature of the profession, it seems absurd that 26 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, require prospective interior designers to spend two or more years meeting the education and experience requirements necessary to receive a government-issued license to work, according to information from the American Society of Interior Designers.

Despite the hefty requirements these states place upon would-be professionals, the median annual income for interior designers in 2012 was just $47,600. The median annual income for Americans with a bachelor's degree was $49,570.

The median annual income for Americans with a graduate or professional degree, meaning those who study for more than four years of undergraduate work, was $65,528.

So why do prospective practitioners of this trade have to jump through so many hoops? It's hard to imagine that interior designers -- who deal in cabinet design and room layout -- pose a serious safety risk to the public.

Economists Jaret Treber and David E. Harrington of Kenyon College found that state governments that regulate interior design make it difficult for people to enter the profession and more expensive for consumers to purchase design services.

Other findings include:

  • Interior-design firms in regulated states earn significantly more than those in unregulated states - about7.2 million more in a city with a population of 1 million.
  • In regulated states, the number of interior designers fell by an estimated 1,300 between 1990 and 2000, demonstrating that regulation is limiting economic opportunity in interior design.
  • Black and Hispanic interior designers are nearly 30 percent less likely to have college degrees than white designers. Thus, regulations with academic requirements disproportionately shut minorities out of the field.

Increasingly, going into business for yourself or embarking on a new career doesn't just require setting up shop and acquiring the necessary skills for success. It's about paying fees and meeting arbitrary government requirements. According to a 2007 Reason Foundation report, 20 percent of the workforce needed to obtain a license to work as of 2007. In the 1950s, that number stood at about 4.5 percent. And since licenses are usually difficult and expensive to obtain, professionals already working in a given field feel less pressure from new competition.

And often, the rules for each profession don't match up with the level of safety required to perform the job well.

While 26 states require prospective interior designers to have a total of two or more years of education and experience to get a license, the national average for emergency medical technicians is just 33 days, according to the nonpartisan Institute for Justice.

It's unclear who is really protected by extensive licensing requirements for interior designers, because professionals and consumers both suffer when governments adopt hefty barriers to entry.