Reforming occupational licensing policies

Morris Kleiner


Occupational licensing has been among the fastest growing labor market institutions in the United States since World War II. The evidence from the economics literature suggests that licensing has had an important influence on wage determination, benefits, employment, and prices in ways that impose net costs on society with little improvement to service quality, health, and safety. To improve occupational licensing practices, Kleiner proposes four specific reforms. First, state agencies would make use of cost-benefit analysis to determine whether requests for additional occupational licensing requirements are warranted. Second, the federal government would promote the determination and adoption of best-practice models through financial incentives and better information. Third, state licensing standards would allow workers to move across state lines with a minimal cost for retraining or residency requirements. Fourth, where politically feasible, certain occupations that are licensed would be reclassified to a system of certification or no regulation. If federal, state, and local governments were to undertake these proposals, evidence suggests that employment in these regulated occupations would grow, consumer access to goods and services would expand, and prices would fall.