In response to “2 years to become a barber? N.C. licensing rules are out of control” (Dec. 21 Opinion):
Misty Odell with the anti-regulatory group Americans for Prosperity claims that North Carolina’s licensing agencies are “cartels” that place outrageous burdens on workers and block competition. As a prime example, she claims that “North Carolina requires almost two years to become a barber,” far more than the national average of 368 days.
But there’s a problem with this claim: It’s simply false. And this incomprehensible factual error reflects a broader failure to understand how licensing works in North Carolina and the benefits it brings.
An individual can become a licensed barber in North Carolina in under a year – less than half of what Americans for Prosperity claims. Moreover, our board issues temporary permits so that barber students can begin working right out of school, even before they pass the exams.
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Nor does occupational licensing exist to block competition. For example, our agency has loosened rules and proposed legislative changes to make it easier for individuals to get licenses – actions that directly refute the image of a protectionist cartel. Americans for Prosperity doesn’t even correctly describe basic law. Practitioners don’t have broad powers to decide who gets to compete. The general qualifications for almost all licenses are determined by the General Assembly.
It’s true that an occupational license makes it harder for people to practice a profession than if the license didn’t exist, and citizens can be glad that’s true. From dentists to pharmacists, architects to nursing home administrators, licensing requirements make sure that citizens are protected from unqualified and dangerous practitioners. And we agree that public-health and safety concerns “are often invoked to defend licensing requirements.” That’s because those concerns are the main reasons licensing exists.
Consider how licensing for barbers protects the public. Barbers are trained to prevent the spread of contagions and skin diseases by proper sterilization of sharp instruments. They study how to correctly administer chemicals and treatments that can harm clients. And they learn how to perform facial shaves with straight-edged razors with minimal risk of injury. In fact, the threat to the public from unlicensed practice is why every single state in the country licenses barbers.
Americans for Prosperity claims that North Carolina is moving in the wrong direction with licensing. But if that organization can’t get simple facts right, why should anyone take its policy recommendations seriously?
Seavers is executive director of the North Carolina Board of Barber Examiners. firstname.lastname@example.org