Pennsylvanians Need Permission to Work

Great news! Pennsylvania has the least burdensome licensing laws in the nation. The bad news? Pennsylvania frequently licensees occupations that are not licensed by other states.

Want to be a travel guide? You need a license. Looking to become an auctioneer? That requires $270 in fees, 140 days of education, and an exam.

These are just a few of the examples from the Institute for Justice (IJ) study on occupational licensing, License to Work. The study reviews 102 low-income occupations—in all 50 states and the District of Columbia—to determine how difficult it is to enter each occupation.

IJ ranks each state in two different categories: most burdensome licensing laws and most broadly and onerously licensed state. In the former category Pennsylvania ranks 50th, as nearly all other states require higher fees and more education and experience. In the latter category, the commonwealth ranks 31st.

For example, the state licenses travel agents, taxidermists, upholsterers, and weighers. Pennsylvania also imposes disproportionate burdens on specific occupations. Becoming a barber or cosmetologist requires 292 days of education. In contrast, an EMT requires 35 days of education. These burdens are arbitrary and do little to protect public safety.

Rather than provide measurable benefits, licensing laws impose costs in the form of higher prices and fewer job opportunities for working people. IJ suggests avoiding these and other consequences by reforming occupational licensing laws to ensure they don’t impose an undue burden on people trying to provide for themselves and their families.

There are clear ways to improve. Recommendations include: the outright repeal of needless licenses, empowering potential entrepreneurs to sue for their right to earn a living, and implementing “sunrise” and “sunset” reviews for licensing laws.

If policymakers want to help some of Pennsylvania's most underprivileged populations improve their quality of life, an overhaul of occupational licensing is a must.