NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

So You Think You Can Be a Hair Braider?

June 25, 2012

Jestina Clayton grew up in a village in Sierra Leone where every girl learns traditional African hair-braiding. After coming to the United States at age 18 and graduating college at age 22, she opened her own hair-braiding operation in Utah, catering her services specifically to African children who had been adopted by local families, says the New York Times.

Clayton's operation continued until she came up against the state's regulatory requirements for being a professional hair braider. In order to continue in the trade she had maintained since childhood, Clayton would have to take two years of school (which taught little of the African style of braiding), costing $16,000 in tuition. Clayton's situation is not unique.

  • There are more than 1,000 licensed professions in the United States, partly a result of more than a century of legal work.
  • As the country industrialized, state governments wanted to protect their citizens and create standards not just for lawyers and doctors but also for basic services.
  • It didn't take long for professional groups to find that they also stood to benefit from the regulations.
  • Over the years, more and more started to lobby for licensing rules, often grand­fathering in existing professionals while putting up high barriers to new competitors.
  • In fact, businesses contorting regulation to their own benefit is so common that economists have a special name for it: regulatory capture.

The result is that the modern marketplace is plagued with licensing requirements, examinations and government oversight of numerous occupations that have little potential for harming the public.

  • In 1950, fewer than 5 percent of Americans worked in jobs that required licenses.
  • Today, it's roughly 30 percent, and that number is likely to grow.
  • These barriers to occupation entry are especially damaging in a time when labor markets are already fragile: they close off entire sectors to out-of-work adults for no other reason than that interest groups are seeking protection from the competition they might offer.

During this economic recovery, a crucial element of putting Americans back to work will be for them to shift out of dying occupations and into those that are in high demand. This necessitates the kind of labor mobility that these regulations restrict.

Source: Jacob Goldstein, "So You Think You Can Be a Hair Braider?" New York Times, June 12, 2012.

For text:


Browse more articles on Economic Issues