Occupational Licensing's Burden On Military Families

A blog about business and economics.
Feb. 21 2012 2:18 PM

Occupational Licensing's Burden On Military Families

Among other things, one consequence of occupational licensing rules is to make it difficult to move from state to state. A licensed interior decorator in southeastern Georgia might be considering a move to nearby Jacksonville, FL but then she'd have to get a new license. This turns out to be particularly burdensome on military families since they tend to move around so much. Last week the Department of Defense and the Treasury Department teamed up to release a report on this, noting that 35 percent of military spouses in the labor force are in licensed occupations and that military spouses are ten times more likely than their civilian counterparts to have moved across state lines in the last year.

The report includes several smart recommendations for how states can reduce the burden this causes. But while military families are a good sympathetic hook for the case, our concern should by no means be limited to them. In some respects the military families are just unusually salient because they have no choice but to move. It's quite possible that civilian families would be more likely to relocate if they weren't burdened by licensing concerns. Historically a very high level of internal labor mobility has been one of the strengths of the American economy, but our mobility rate has declined for the past few decades for a variety of reasons. What's more, the premise of urging states to try to help military families is that the various licensing commissions out there want to be helpful. In many cases, however, raising arbitrary barriers to entry is precisely the point of licensing rules so merely pointing out that the barrier is effective is unlikely to spur change. But I think it's excellent that Treasury and DOD are shedding some light on this issue. The federal governemnt has only a very limited role to play in this issue, but I'd love to see more federal efforts to shed light. I could easily imagine this being an issue that a nice bipartisan blue ribbon commission could actually tackle in effective way. I don't think anyone in America has a strong ideological stake in the yacht broker licensing issue, but these rules tend to just grow denser and denser over time if nobody pays attention.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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