Illinois lags in easing entry regulations for professions

Illinois lags in easing entry regulations for professions

Nearly 25 percent of Illinois’ workforce requires government permission to work.

In Illinois, professionals such as auctioneers, makeup artists and manicurists cannot work without the government’s permission. Even as increasing numbers of Illinoisans flee the state in search of better opportunities, as many as 1 in 4 jobs may be off-limits to the people who want to do them. And in many cases those same workers can travel to another state and do that same job without a license.

A new Tennessee law seeks to address that problem by making it easier for residents of that state to do their jobs without interference from government. The “Right to Earn a Living Act” forces government agencies to review entry regulations and eliminate any unnecessary rules. With the new law, Tennessee becomes the latest state to join a bipartisan effort to eliminate a set of regulations that hurt the least well off. Earlier in 2016, Arizona passed a substantial repeal of unnecessary entry regulations. And in 2015, the White House released a report arguing for reform of entry regulations.

Entry regulations determine who can and cannot do a job. For example, only a licensed doctor can perform surgery. But entry regulations go far beyond simply protecting safety and welfare. Illinois also regulates auctioneers, barbers and manicurists. And a surprising number of licenses are specific to only a few states. Illinois is one of 16 states to license sign language interpreters, one of 13 to license locksmiths and one of just nine states to license farm labor contractors.

Licenses are supposed to exist to protect the public, but a rising body of evidence shows they exist more frequently to protect members of a profession from competition. And raising the barriers to entering a profession hurts those with the least means the most. It takes more than a thousand days of education to become a security alarm installer in Illinois and costs more than $800. That effectively makes the profession inaccessible to low-income workers even though those workers could take the same job in many other states without any license at all.

When people are shut out of professions, customers suffer too. A makeup artist in Illinois requires at least a 12th-grade education and 175 days of training: half a year if the person has time to take that training continuously. It is possible that training might improve the quality of makeup application, but taking away competition has the opposite effect. A makeup artist can be well trained but still provide poor service, in which case she is far more likely to lose business – unless the government artificially limits competition.

Restricting competition also drives up prices. One study estimates each Illinois household pays $1,245 a year for occupational licensing.

The new law in Tennessee provides a way of eliminating some of these harms. It forces all state and local government agencies to review the restrictions they place on entering professions and to repeal those laws if they do not serve a public health, safety, or welfare purpose. That means more Tennesseans will be able to find work, and consumers will get a better deal.

As Illinois struggles to pass a balanced budget and many communities face economic decline and shrinking populations, it makes sense for the state to eliminate laws preventing people from finding work within the state.

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