THE BLOG
09/11/2014 02:00 pm ET Updated Nov 11, 2014

Cosmetology Rules Show Absurdity of Occupational Licensing

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Your stylist has to get government permission to cut your hair. That's true no matter what state you live in.

In West Virginia cosmetologists must go through 467 days of training and pay $185 before they can receive a state license to operate legally, according to a report from the nonpartisan Institute for Justice.

Alabama charges aspiring cosmetologists $275 in fees and requires 350 days of training in exchange for a state license, according to the report.

Occupational licenses cost time and money, and more than 1,000 occupations are subject to regulation in at least one state across the country, according to a 2007 Reason Foundation report.

Under America's vast occupational-licensing systems, the perception is that a piece of government-issued paper proves that a person is capable of working in his or her respective trade or profession. But in reality many government-issued licenses are simply hoops through which individuals must jump before they can start to make a living. These hoops provide a hefty revenue source for government but do little besides pose a barrier to entry for people wanting to start out in their chosen field. And often the rules for each profession don't match up with the level of safety required to perform the job well.

In Wisconsin becoming a cosmetologist takes 15 times the amount of training that it takes to become an emergency medical technician, or EMT, according to the Institute for Justice report. Nationwide cosmetologists spend an average of 372 days to get a license, whereas the average EMT spends just 33 days.

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. The Reason Foundation report noted that 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 often difficult and expensive to obtain, professionals already working in a given field feel less pressure from new competition.

Many cosmetologists already seek certification outside government to gain added expertise, skill and value for the customers. Esthetics companies such as Aveda and Redken offer tiered educational and achievement programs that serve as a benchmark for professional expertise. And some stylists operate outside the system altogether, running salons out of their homes and hauling in a healthy income.

Customers recognize talent and results. Finding a great stylist is often difficult, but once customers find someone they trust and who does a good job, they tend to be loyal. Having a government license has nothing to do with that.