Oppressive regulations leave thousands of jobs unfilled

Oppressive regulations leave thousands of jobs unfilled

The jobs are there. The people to fill them are there. The only thing standing in the way is Illinois’ overreaching state regulations and job licensing.

As of April 2024, Illinois tied for the third-highest unemployment rate in the country at 4.8%, with over 313,000 people unemployed at the same time it had 385,000 jobs ready and waiting to be filled.

So why is any Illinoisan unemployed? Occupational licensing laws.

Occupational licenses are government-issued permission slips to work in a certain field. Licensed occupations include cosmetologists, athletic trainers, locksmiths and more.

These archaic regulations were enacted under the guise of protecting the public from untrained professionals. But does the state really need to dictate consumer protections in the age of online reviews? Are regulations really about consumers, or are they about protecting existing workers from competition?

The licensing requirements have the pernicious effect of shutting out Illinoisans who want to work in these fields.

Take the field of cosmetology: The Illinois Department of Employment Security estimated that 2,401 cosmetologist positions opened in 2023. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation issued just 991 cosmetology licenses that year.

The only thing standing between an applicant and a job in one of those 1,400-plus open positions is a cool $38,658 and a year-long commitment to training.

In Illinois, obtaining a cosmetology license requires attending 1,500 hours of schooling, which on average cost $17,658 statewide in 2019. Factor in the 1,500 hours’ worth of lost wages assuming Illinois’ minimum wage of $14 per hour, and you reach a total cost of $38,658. The median wage for a cosmetologist in Illinois in 2019 was just $27,040.

Given this massive state-imposed barrier to entry, it’s no surprise open cosmetologist positions are not being filled. These overreaching state regulations severely limit economic mobility for those who would like to earn higher wages. They effectively seal off open, high-supply jobs from those who can’t afford to fork over $39,000.

But the cost doesn’t need to be that high and the license requirements don’t need to be so stringent. Massachusetts, New York, California, Texas and Vermont require just 67% of the schooling hours for cosmetology that Illinois does. This naturally comes with an average decrease of $2,341 in the cost to attend a cosmetology program in those states, as well as almost $7,000 back in otherwise lost wages.

This means it is nearly $9,500 cheaper to become a cosmetologist in those states than it is in Illinois, making entry into the field much more manageable.

Cosmetology is just one example of the many professions closed off by unnecessary government regulation. These regulations are unfair to the poor, as 41 of 102 lower-income occupations are licensed in Illinois.

To really address poverty at its core and empower people through work, Illinois needs to ensure regulations are not more restrictive than necessary. This can be accomplished through sunrise and sunset reviews, as well as by simply repealing burdensome laws.

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