Americans long have admired entrepreneurs who work their way to the top with nothing more than intense drive and a can-do spirit. In a Gallup poll last year of institutions in which the public has the most confidence, small businesses come in second right after the military.
But currently, the state of Iowa is preventing many of those entrepreneurs from starting a business and reaching their full potential because it imposes too many unnecessary, extreme and expensive professional licensing requirements on those who want to rise from the bottom to the top of the economic ladder. It also limits the number of workers available to existing businesses wanting to expand, because candidates are discouraged by the huge investment of time and money it takes to get the needed skills.
A recent expose’ by the New York Times on Iowa’s requirements for a cosmetology license put the issue in stark focus. Iowans who want to become a hair stylist, or dream of opening their own salon one day, pay about $20,000 for the required education and must spend several thousand hours in the classroom. They also can incur significant debt. A small-business owner with several hair salons says these absurd requirements also make it very difficult for him to find enough eligible workers.
A study on burdensome professional licensing requirements by the Institute for Justice ranks Iowa as one of the worst in the nation. Seventy-one different occupations require licensing in the state, and sometimes it seems there is little risk of danger to the health or safety of the public that licensing might provide.
From ductwork contractors to well drillers, massage therapists to unarmed security guards, and granite contractors to those who sand floors — many, many professions have state requirements that involve training and licensing costs.
Horatio Alger wrote stories about young people from humble backgrounds having the ability to work hard, and with determination and courage they could move from poverty to middle-class security. That is very difficult to do in Iowa today when it’s hard to get to first base as a professional employee, and even harder to start your own business in that field. Unfortunately, those pushing to maintain tough licensing requirements are often people protecting their business interests by limiting the playing field. That’s unethical.
It’s time for Iowa lawmakers to cut red tape by reviewing and revamping the state’s professional licensing requirements. That could make the dreams of so many Iowans much more possible and even spur a healthier state economy.
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• Matt Everson is state director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Iowa, representing about 10,000 small-business members in the state.