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Occupational licensing laws in the United States are stupid and cruel. They disproportionately harm women, minorities, former inmates trying to get their lives on track, and other would-be entrepreneurs and skilled laborers who can’t get to work without jumping through unnecessary and expensive government hoops.


The examples of occupational licensing laws run amuck are many: In Idaho, it’s harder to become a barber than a bounty hunter. In Washington, D.C., shoe-shiners have to wade through four layers of bureaucracy and pay at least $337 in fees to get city permission to clean shoes for money. In Florida, it takes about six years and $400 to become a licensed interior decorator. In Alabama, you’ll need more than four months of training and $135 to be allowed to give a manicure.

Notice that all these examples are for pretty low-risk occupations. I mean, certainly a bad haircut is no joke, but this stuff isn’t rocket surgery.

Neither is the application of eyelash extensions, which is the newest target of ridiculous licensing laws here in my state of Minnesota. MPR News reports:

For years, eyelash extension services have exploded quietly in Minnesota and are now one of the most popular and profitable salon offerings. Providing the service recently became a business opportunity for women of color because of low start-up costs.

But new state regulations threaten these minority-owned businesses. […] [N]ew state regulations have derailed [lash extension technician Raeisha] Williams’ dreams of starting an eyelash academy for women of color. She’ll need expensive training and state licenses for both herself and her salon.

Older eyelash operations face lower hurdles. But for newcomers like Williams, costs could be in the thousands of dollars. Williams expects she’ll have to suspend operations as a result. “We’ll probably have to close down without a question there won’t be another option for us,” Williams said.

This is as callous as it is irrational. Like the other occupations mentioned above, eyelash extension services are pretty low-risk. Sure, an unsteady hand could lead to serious consequences for the customer’s vision, but there’s no way a state license can prevent an accident like that. In fact, the MPR News report quotes the chief of staff of the Minnesota Board of Cosmetology Examiners, the group responsible for this licensure, admitting not a single person has complained to the board about eye injuries resulting from unlicensed eyelash techs.

Even more absurd is the fact that anyone can apply eyelash extensions to themselves at home, without a license, using products bought in Minnesota. “On the shelves of every drug store in the Twin Cities there are eyelashes a person can buy and apply. This is not a threat to public safety,” said attorney Lee McGrath of the Institute for Justice, which regularly fights against egregious occupational licensing requirements like this one.

“Without systematic evidence of a problem,” McGrath added, “licensing boards should not extend these types of barriers to entry to include perfectly safe services.”

He’s right. Raeisha Williams is losing her business—a profitable business that gave her a good income and served her clients well—for no good reason.

Now the government wants to decide who gets to apply eyelash extensions AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, file
Bonnie Kristian is a columnist at Rare, weekend editor at The Week, and a fellow at Defense Priorities. You can find more of her work at www.bonniekristian.com or follow her on Twitter @bonniekristian
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