Several New Mexico House Republicans recently sent out a mailer showing dark-skinned hands cutting a child’s hair. The advertisement says Democrats “voted to allow convicted sex offenders to receive professional licenses for activities such as cutting hair … leaving unsuspecting women and children vulnerable to predators.”
With a few keystrokes, you can find the same image on iStock, though the barber’s hands in the original seem several shades lighter. Whatever happened, the Party of Lincoln should know better than to distribute something so insulting. And it’s strange to see the Party of Reagan do so in the service of failing regulations which have nothing to do with protecting people from predators.
New Mexico barbers – like its travel guides, sign language interpreters, HVAC contractors, and hundreds of other professionals – are required to obtain a license to work. They pay fees, take exams, and complete thousands of training hours. More than one in four New Mexican workers is licensed. Only eight other states license a higher percentage. And according to the Institute for Justice, New Mexico’s “licensing laws for lower-income occupations are some of the most arduous in the nation.”
The burdens bear little connection to public risk. For example, an aspiring barber must complete 1,200 hours of training, nearly seven times as many as an emergency medical technician.
This might be worth it if the regulations protected consumers. But there is little evidence they do. Most studies find no effect on the quality of consumer services. In fact, more studies find licensure undermines quality than enhances it. Worse, it clearly raises prices.
What about child predators?
In the large volume of research, no one has ever found regulation protects the public from child predators. Licensing does, however, make it harder for those who’ve made mistakes and done their time to re-enter the workforce. Ironically, this is how occupational licensing may endanger the public. Let me explain.
There are 282 provisions in New Mexico law allowing regulators to deny a license to work to anyone with a criminal record. Another 173 allow regulators to deny business licenses to these individuals.
For example, any misdemeanor conviction is grounds to indefinitely deny, suspend, or revoke an interior designer’s license. A controlled substances offense is sufficient to deny an athletic trainer a license. There are somehow more licensing provisions targeting minor offenses than violent or sexual offenses.
About one in five New Mexicans has a criminal record, mostly for nonviolent offenses. It’s estimated 70% of Americans have done something that could have resulted in a criminal record.
For those who’ve gotten caught, a job is one of the best ways to get back on the right path. Better job opportunities, higher wages and more employment tend to correlate with lower crime rates. And states with the heaviest occupational licensing burdens have higher average increases in new crimes by those with prior convictions.
So if public safety is the concern, let’s make it easier for people with nonviolent criminal records to work. Ronald Reagan once declared the first economic freedom is the “freedom to work.” New Mexico Republicans should work harder to expand this freedom instead of playing politics with a bad regulation.