Punitive Occupational Licensing Laws Bar Pennsylvanians from Work

Pennsylvania’s occupational licensing laws are keeping two Philadelphia women out of work.

Courtney Haveman and Amanda Spillane have sued the commonwealth after the Pennsylvania Cosmetology Board denied their cosmetology licenses because they didn’t meet “good moral character” standards. These standards bar individuals with criminal records from working as cosmetologists, estheticians, nail technicians, and natural hair braiders.

According to their lawyers from the Institute for Justice (IJ), “This law doesn’t protect the public, it just makes it harder for individuals to pull themselves up and provide for their families. That’s unconstitutional.”

Courtney and Amanda are trying to turn their lives around after overcoming addiction—the last thing they need is a government rule making it harder to earn a living.

The good moral character standard is among many burdensome licensing restrictions across numerous industries. For instance, natural hair braiders must complete 300 hours of training to gain a license, more hours than EMTs must clock. Sen. Anthony Williams is hoping to, “eliminate this costly and senseless requirement that discourses interest in the profession,” and, last month, spearheaded a public hearing that underscores the need for widespread licensing reform. 

Licensing requirements impact hundreds of industries. Nearly 20 percent of Pennsylvanians must acquire licensure to work.

While licensing is intended to protect public health and safety, a recent IJ report, “At What Cost?,” explains how occupational licensing costs jobs, harms the economy, and disproportionately hurts low-income communities without improving safety or quality.

  • IJ estimates 90,000 lost jobs and $368 million in lost economic value each year in the commonwealth due to burdensome licensure. 
  • The growth of occupational monopolies deny sustainable wages to hard-working and low-income individuals who are less able to devote the time and money needed to obtain the licenses.
  • With fewer people entering these overly-licensed industries, prices increase for consumers, particularly harming low-income communities who cannot afford to pay for more expensive services and products.

We recently highlighted how licensing reform can also help move formerly incarcerated individuals towards employment and independence, reducing recidivism. States with the highest occupational licensing burdens experience recidivism rates above 9 percent, while minimal licensing states saw only a 2.5 percent rate. 

Governor Wolf has joined the call for licensing reform, recognizing that eliminating punitive licensing requirements helps Pennsylvanians prosper. Now, lawmakers must also prioritize expanding employment opportunities through occupational licensing reform.

Courtney and Amanda deserve a chance.