Here’s a question: Which occupation do you think requires more training in Utah — someone who paints your house or an emergency medical technician (EMT), who might save your life?
If you said EMT, you’d be wrong.
That’s thanks to what are called “occupational licenses,” which essentially require government permission slips to start certain jobs or new careers. Many are as backwards as this example sounds, but new legislation under consideration in the Utah House of Representatives would start to address the harm caused by them.
In Utah, occupational licenses are especially onerous. A report from the Institute for Justice ranked the Beehive State as having the 13th-most burdensome license requirements in the country. They cost an average of nearly $300 and require over 400 days of experience and passage of two state exams.
It would be one thing if licensing requirements were only applied when they are necessary to protect public health and safety. In fact, that’s how occupational licenses started. Their original goal was guarding the welfare of consumers.
But over the decades, license requirements expanded to cover far more than public safety concerns. Special interests have lobbied for their passage in many instances to prevent competitors from entering the market. The effect is fewer consumer choices and higher prices for many services. A 2011 academic study found these laws cost consumers nationwide over $200 billion every year.
The harms to employment are even worse. According to the Institute for Justice, Utah requires occupational licenses for 46 mid- to low-income professions. Many of these are entry- or mid-level positions that are the launching pad for new careers — or even entire businesses.
For example, that person who wants to paint your house? He or she must pay $549 in fees and spend a staggering 730 days in training — two years — which is time and money many people don’t have.
Or someone who wants to become a mason? Among the 28 other states that require a license for this occupation, those seeking a license in Utah pay the fifth-highest amount in fees ($477) and must obtain the third-most experience (1,460 days).
The harms occupational licenses cause the Hispanic community are especially pronounced. While Latinos make up about 14 percent of Utah’s total population, they comprise about a quarter of the construction industry workers. Removing these barriers would undoubtedly help the unemployed Hispanic population, which is nearly double the rest of the state’s.
These barriers are also proving difficult for Utah employers. Despite Utah’s growing Hispanic population — which at over 400,000 now amounts to nearly 1 in 7 residents across the state — many construction companies are having a hard time finding workers to fill open positions.
Reforming — or altogether repealing — many of these occupational licenses would go a long way toward helping Utah employers and employees alike.
There are efforts underway now in the Utah State Legislature to do just that. Rep. Mike Schultz has proposed House Bill 313, which will ease the licensing and training requirements for some specialty contractors and apprentices in plumbing and electricity. By removing some of the barriers that prevent people from even training for a profession, this bill is a step in the right direction.
More efforts like Schultz’s HB 313 should be pursued by lawmakers. Reducing unnecessary occupational licensing requirements is a proven way to create jobs and stimulate economic growth, without compromising public safety.
Evelyn Everton is the Utah state director of Americans for Prosperity.