The Institute for Justice (IJ) has released an update of its stellar “License to Work” report, which examines the burdens of occupational licensing regulations across the country. It’s the first update since 2017, which found North Carolina ranked 17th (first is worst) out of the 50 states and D.C. in terms of how broad and onerous its licensing structure is. In 2017, IJ found that only 13 states required more licenses for low-income occupations than did North Carolina.

After five more years of a legislative majority focused on lessening various tax and regulatory burdens on North Carolinians, where does North Carolina now stand among other states in terms of licensing jobs for low-income workers?

Mostly unchanged, except to make getting occupational licenses even more expensive and restrictive. North Carolina still ranks 17th in total licensing burden, but now only 12 states license more low-income jobs than North Carolina (this state requires licenses in 66 of the 102 low-income occupations identified by IJ). Worse, the state increased licensing fees for 52 of those 66 low-income occupations, and it added minimum-age requirements to 29 of them.

The John Locke Foundation’s Policy Solutions stresses the importance of this issue for North Carolinians and, by extension, their policymakers:

Everyone in North Carolina has a self-evident, inalienable right to “the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor.” It’s in North Carolina’s Constitution, Article I, Section 1. 

Occupational licensing threatens this fundamental right. It is an entry barrier against people enjoying the fruits of their own labor in many kinds of jobs. It means you cannot even begin to work in a licensed field until you have satisfied all the state’s requirements first. …

For workers, getting a license costs time and money: school tuition and fees to satisfy educational credits, time spent studying, sitting fees for required qualifying exams, time spent logging job experience, opportunity costs of forgone work, passing a criminal background check, and license and renewal fees. These costs can be very large hurdles for the poor, the less educated, minorities, mothers returning to the workforce, relocated military families, older workers seeking a new career, migrant workers, workers seeking better opportunities by moving across state lines, and even workers with conviction records unrelated to the work they seek to do.

For reform-minded legislators, we offer a package of solutions to restore a better balance of upholding North Carolinians’ rights while providing the proper protections for citizens:

  • A Right to Earn a Living Act to make sure the state’s regulation of any occupation is demonstrably necessary and carefully tailored to fulfill legitimate public health, safety, or welfare objectives (the highlighted words are extremely important)
  • An Occupational License Consumer Choice Act for occupations that retained state licensing after scrutiny under Right to Earn a Living, which would satisfy state concerns about information imbalances and protect consumer choice while letting entrepreneurs compete
  • Sunset with periodic review of the remaining licenses and licensing boards to keep checking whether they are still necessary or not
  • A least-cost-state standard of remaining licenses’ burdens, to keep from overburdening workers here relative to how they are regulated elsewhere
  • Universal license recognition for remaining licenses