Business woman wrapped in red tape with scissors.

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The Federal Trade Commission is heading up a task force to partner with state lawmakers on reforming occupational licensing requirements: rules that kill jobs, raise prices, and generally make life worse for millions of Americans. To someone who has been passionate about this issue for years, this is pretty exciting news.

The life of a policy writer can be a lonely and thankless one, particularly when the issues you most care about are comparatively obscure. Since 2012, I’ve been attempting to highlight the problems with occupational licensure in America, screaming into the void as the national attention span jackknifes from one sexier topic to another. Immigration, terrorism, crime, health care, and a plethora of other issues parade across America’s televisions in a loop, and no one cares about the entrepreneur who can’t feed his family because licensing requirements prevent him from working in his chosen profession.

But this frustration makes it all the more gratifying when people finally do start paying attention. On occupational licensing, the tide finally seems to be turning in a big way, and what’s more, in a bipartisan way. I was first encouraged by a report released by the Obama White House in 2015 entitled “Occupational Licensing: A Framework for Policymakers.” The report advocated reducing or eliminating many licensing requirements across the country to improve opportunity for American workers, while at the same time giving more options for consumers. Given the Obama administration’s penchant for regulation, this was surprising yet pleasing.

It’s early, but let us hope that the FTC’s task force gets results, and continues to drive states towards the reforms they so badly need.

In the meantime, states have been taking the lead on reform. Georgia, Alabama, Michigan, Illinois, Vermont, Kansas, Illinois, Delaware, and Minnesota have all made significant progress in reforming licensing requirements, While there is a long way to go, it’s encouraging to see such movement on the issue.

With any change of administration, there’s always a worry that good programs started under the previous one will fall by the wayside. There is precious little I would like to see preserved from the Obama administration, but the push for licensing reform is one such endeavor. Imagine my delight, then, when the Trump administration asked the FTC to form a task force devoted solely to occupational licensing reform.

Acting Chairman of the FTC, Maureen Ohlhausen, concisely highlighted the absurdity of some licensing requirements, saying:

Consumers can, and do, easily evaluate the quality of interior designers, makeup artists, hair-braiders, and others. I challenge anyone to explain why the state has a legitimate interest in protecting the public from rogue interior designers carpet-bombing living rooms with ugly throw pillows.

Ohlhausen is referring to the fact that many states require onerous licenses for a huge array of professions, where public safety and consumer protection cannot possibly justify the rules. Instead, these requirements exist to protect current workers from competition from newcomers. This keeps prices higher, costing consumers more and giving them fewer choices. It also shuts out many able workers from productive and profitable jobs.

If we really care about creating jobs, putting America back to work, reducing poverty, and expanding opportunity, we would do better to focus on reforming licensing regulations instead of raising tariffs and throwing money away on infrastructure boondoggles. It’s early, but let us hope that the FTC’s task force gets results, and continues to drive states towards the reforms they so badly need.

Logan Albright is a researcher for Conservative Review and Director of Research for Free the People. You can follow him on Twitter @loganalbright73.

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