While politicians of all stripes talk of the need to create more jobs, about one in four jobs in America requires an occupational license, a government permission slip to work. These licenses are expensive, demand time-consuming training and are subject to requirements that vary from state to state. The Goldwater Institute has a solution that breaks down barriers to work, and it’s already been enacted by 18 states in just a few short years, helping to put thousands of Americans back to work. As we approach Veterans Day, we should look to raise awareness of this important issue that affects military families and many others.
Imagine spending 1,000 hours of your life pursuing the skills and experience necessary to obtain a license to work in your dream job. Now, imagine relocating from one state to another only to find that all that hard work was for nothing. Your license, your time and all of your efforts are suddenly worthless. In fact, you may have to start all over again, rebuilding your career from scratch to match your new state’s requirements. Unfortunately, this is the reality facing the many Americans who work in one of many careers that require an occupational license.
Americans face government-imposed barriers to work in a wide range of professions, including as barbers, plumbers, real estate agents, sign language interpreters, florists, landscapers, coaches and interior designers. No matter an individual’s qualifications, he or she must reapply for permission to work in these fields and many others when moving to a new state. That’s a costly and unnecessary barrier for countless Americans who are trying to earn a living.
One group of Americans is particularly hard hit by occupational licensing requirements: military families. The average military family moves every two to three years, packing up the contents of their lives and getting adjusted to new neighborhoods, new schools and new routines. For military spouses, these frequent relocations can mean major disruptions in their careers. Those who work in fields that require occupational licenses often have to invest more time and more money simply to continue doing their jobs in their new state of residence.
By the time a military spouse completes paperwork and testing, obtains a license and finds a job, new orders likely will come through that direct their family to move again—and the process for work certification will need to start anew. At some point, these military spouses may begin to ask when it will be their turn to put their careers first.
The cost of occupational licensing for low-income Americans is also especially hard to bear. Low-income Americans are those least able to afford the time and money needed to get re-licensed each time an opportunity across state lines arises. They pay the price as consumers of services too. Current estimates find that consumers spend $203 billion per year on burdensome occupational licensing requirements. For a family of four making less than $40,000 per year, these costs are not easily ignored.
The Goldwater Institute’s Breaking Down Barriers to Work Act helps military spouses — and all Americans with occupational licenses — to keep working. Instead of asking licensed professionals to jump through expensive, time-consuming and redundant hoops, this law directs state governments to issue licenses to new residents who apply and meet simple, commonsense criteria. The legislation breaks down barriers to work, and allows licensed professionals, including members of the military, veterans and their families the freedom to pursue the American Dream.
In 2019, Arizona became the first state to enact universal recognition, and since then, more than 4,000 workers have applied for and been granted an Arizona license to work based on out-of-state training and qualifications. These success stories represent more than the successful implementation of a transformative idea; they represent the families, careers and communities that benefit when government steps out of the way of Americans who are skilled, ready and willing to work. Other states are following suit. In addition to the 18 states that already have enacted a version of the Breaking Down Barriers to Work Act, more than 25 others introduced the law this year as well. The Goldwater Institute won’t stop fighting for this critical reform until it is enacted in all 50 states.
Heather Curry is the director of strategic engagement at the Goldwater Institute, where she leads the institute’s national legislative affairs efforts. Additionally, she directs the Breaking Down Barriers to Work initiative, a multi-state effort to advance Goldwater’s latest flagship reform, the universal recognition of out-of-state occupational licenses.