Recent media coverage in Texas suggests that the sky might fall if House Bill 1705 is enacted, removing licensing requirements for barbers and cosmetologists. The bill seeks to solve an important problem, namely that many aspiring barbers and cosmetologists find that seeking licensing is prohibitively expensive. The truth is that the licensing of barbers and cosmetologists does not serve the public interest, and trimming these statewide regulations won’t harm consumers.
A careful reading of the news coverage suggests that the currently licensed barbers, cosmetologists, and the employees and owners of schools that train aspiring barbers and cosmetologists are the loudest critics — since they’re the only citizens who might pay a price if the barriers to competition are removed.
My extensive research supports the notion that barber licensing increases the earnings of licensed barbers by making it more difficult for others to enter the profession. Basic economics tells us that as supply falls relative to demand, prices rise, and the same basic logic holds here, too. Similar evidence exists for cosmetologists.
Texans can look to other states for evidence that the removal of barber and cosmetologist licensing won’t result in chaos in the streets. In Alabama, barbers weren’t licensed for 30 years! From 1983 to 2013, Alabama barbers were free to practice without obtaining state licenses. After fierce and repeated lobbying from the state’s board of cosmetology, statewide licensing was eventually reinstated.
Although there’s evidence that the removal of barber licensing reduced the wages of Alabama barbers and the employment of Alabama cosmetologists, there was no statewide pandemic of disease or a call by consumers to add onerous regulations for the profession.
While some states like Alabama didn’t or don’t require barbers to get licenses, it’s worth noting that the entire United Kingdom doesn’t require barbers or cosmetologists to obtain licenses to work. In 1964, the U.K. established the Hair Council, which set up a voluntary certification process for cosmetologists practicing in the country.
In other words, there’s no requirement for aspiring barbers and cosmetologists in the U.K. to complete 1,500 hours of education and training like there is in Texas. Instead, barbers and cosmetologists can choose whether to complete this training. Some U.K. barbers and cosmetologists would love to make this training mandatory. But the 66 million residents of the United Kingdom seem to be surviving just fine without barber and cosmetologist licensing.
Removing barber and cosmetologist licensing in Texas wouldn’t mean that the profession is no longer regulated or that just anybody could set up shop in the state. The truth is that the market is already a primary regulator, with or without licensing.
When Texans are looking for good haircuts or hairstyles, they don’t check in with bureaucrats in Austin. Instead, consumers check the numerous sources of information on the internet. Between Yelp, Facebook and other resources, there’s a wealth of information about the reputation and quality of barbers and stylists available at consumers’ fingertips. If barbers and cosmetologists are providing poor quality service, they won’t be in business for very long. There’s no better regulator than market competition.
If anything, the removal of licensing in Texas will mean that more Texans will have the opportunity to work in these professions without paying thousands of dollars to barber and beauty schools and hundreds of dollars in fees to the state. Licensing removal will mean that Texans will have more choice since more barbers and cosmetologists will be able to enter the market.
Lessening the burden of occupational licensing is nothing that consumers in Texas should be scared about. Removing this requirement for barbers and cosmetologists will result in consumers paying lower prices for hair services and the market, as it already does, will continue to ensure that consumers get good quality service.
Edward Timmons is a professor of economics at Saint Francis University and director of its Knee Center for the Study of Occupational Regulation, and a writer on occupational regulation for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
Published By: The Dallas Morning News