The best anti-poverty program: Lowering the barriers to work

  • Jared Meyer

Occupational licensing, the requirement that people gain government’s permission to work, limits economic opportunity by making it harder for people to earn a living. These government-imposed requirements to work extend far beyond the professional fields of medicine, law, and accounting — high-paying fields for which the need for a license is commonly accepted.

Policymakers are beginning to realize the problems posed by today’s wide-ranging licensing schemes. In Arizona, for example, nearly one in four workers need a government license. Most of the state’s licenses affect low- to middle-income occupations. Out of the 102 such occupations evaluated in the Institute for Justice’s comprehensive report on state licensing, 64 required a license in Arizona.

Additionally, Arizona ranked the worst in the nation in terms of overall licensing requirements and burdens, with fees that averaged $455 per license. For someone struggling to find work, these costs act as a substantial barrier to self-sufficiency.