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When Acting Chairman Ohlhausen launched the FTC’s Economic Liberty Task Force in early 2017 to shine a spotlight on occupational licensing, the goal was not only to advocate for needed reforms. She also wanted to give a voice to the millions of American workers and consumers – especially military families – whose lives and livelihoods are impacted by misguided policies. Unnecessary licensing requirements affect workers throughout the economy and across the nation, and they hit military spouses particularly hard when service members relocate from state to state.

To help get the word out, and to kick off the Task Force’s 2018 activities, today we are sharing our latest project: Voices for Liberty, a set of storytelling videos featuring four Americans whose lives have been impacted by overbroad licensing rules. On December 14, 2017, we hosted four individuals, including three military spouses, for a “fireside chat” with Acting Chairman Ohlhausen. We are grateful to our guests for coming to FTC headquarters to share their stories:

  • Nivea Thornton, a natural hair braider;
  • Kim Lopez, an educator and military spouse;
  • Sean O’Driscoll, an emergency medical technician and military spouse; and
  • Jackie Clark, formerly a licensed esthetician and massage therapist (now a graphic designer) and military spouse.

As the Task Force website explains, occupational licensing reform has long been a core focus of the FTC’s competition advocacy program, through which we urge policymakers to reduce or eliminate regulations that stifle competition and aren’t needed to protect consumers. The Task Force has helped to amplify our bottom-line message: streamlining occupational regulations is good for competition, workers, consumers, and the American economy.

Last year, the Task Force hosted roundtable discussions on license portability and empirical research about the effects of licensing, engaged with numerous state policymakers and other key stakeholders, filed written advocacy comments on state and federal licensing proposals, and supported the Commission’s Congressional testimony on licensing issues. We also are partnering with our colleagues at the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Defense who are tackling licensing issues.

The goal of the fireside chat and videos is to make sure those involved in policy debates do not lose sight of the very real impact of licensing on the everyday lives of American workers.

For example, for Ms. Lopez, state licensing requirements in Utah meant there was no feasible way for her to work as a public school teacher in the state where her husband is stationed, even though she is an experienced teacher with a Master’s degree, several specialty certifications, and licenses from other states with rigorous standards.

“I want to work in my field. I feel I have a lot to give to children and my community in my field and that’s what I’m interested in. So it was a lot put on my family as far as hardship financially, and I often have to work under what I’m qualified to do,” she said.

For Ms. Thornton, it meant being told she needed a cosmetology license to operate her hair-braiding business, even though her state’s mandatory cosmetology training would not include any instruction on hair-braiding skills.

“After I started my business and I had the issue with the [Arkansas] cosmetology board, I said to myself, there has to be a way that something can be done about this,” she said.

Ms. Thornton appealed the requirement to the state board, which later withdrew the requirement.

Since then, she said, “business has grown tremendously. I stay busy. I’m currently actually looking for braiders to employ in my salon, possibly expanding because my space is needing more room.”

Our four guests’ hour-long conversation with Acting Chairman Ohlhausen is insightful and inspiring, and we encourage everyone to watch the entire video. We’ve also assembled a set of clips to illustrate particular issues. Check out the complete list, but here are a few of the observations they shared:

  • Some occupations are licensed even though licensing isn’t needed to protect the public. Entrepreneurship can thrive when unnecessary restrictions are lifted.
  • It can be difficult and expensive for even highly skilled and experienced professionals to obtain new licenses when moving to a new state, especially when they have to retake tests, complete duplicative coursework, or otherwise prove their qualifications all over again.
  • Licensing restrictions may force people to take lower-paid jobs that don’t fully utilize their skills, or to switch careers entirely.
  • Military spouses in licensed occupations face particular challenges, because they move often and may not know where they will end up next. This may discourage service members from remaining in the military.

Acting Chairman Ohlhausen asked our guests about advocacy challenges and opportunities and what more the federal government might do. They all agreed: overbroad licensing rules need to change, to help everyone who faces unnecessary burdens to work in their field. The stories our guests shared go to the heart of how occupational licensing can dramatically impact economic liberty and the ability to earn a living, and they help to explain why licensing reform has popular and bipartisan support.

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