Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hairbraider vs. Oregon's Cosmetology Cartel

Warning: This activity is illegal in the state of Oregon without a government license.

The Oregonian featured this article recently "Braiding African American hair at center of overregulation battle in Oregon," about occupational licensing in general, but with a special focus on hairbraiding in Oregon.  To perform hairbraiding in Oregon, even for free, currently requires a state cosmetology license, which involves 1,700 hours of training in a beauty school at a cost of $10,000-$20,000 for tuition.  The hairbraider featured in the story and video above, Portland-native Amber Starks, is currently performing hairbraiding across the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington, where it's legal to perform hairbraiding without a cosmetology license.  Ms. Starks is awaiting a possible change in state law before she can legally perform hairbraiding in her home state. From the article:
Prompted by Starks' case, a group of Portland-area lawmakers have promised to file a "Natural Hair Act" for the 2013 legislative session. The goal is to braiders to work with some state oversight -- say, after passing classes in hair-care sanitation -- but without a full cosmetological education.
It's no surprise that Oregon's "cosmetology cartel" is fighting to keep its government-enforced barriers to entry in place that now require a full cosmetology license to braid hair:
In case after case nationwide, however, cosmetologists have opposed looser standards (see map above with hairbraiding licensing requirement by state). In several states, beauty schools canceled classes and bused students to the state capitol to lobby.

"We've worked so hard as an industry to get away from the dumb hairdresser stereotype, the 'beauty school dropout,' thing," said Katrina Soentpiet, who owns Face It Salon in Eugene. "We are professionals. If you work with hair, you should have to meet these standards."

The vice chairwoman of the state cosmetology board opposes any compromise. "As a practitioner for 40 years, it's offensive to me," said Sharon Wiser, an instructor at Bella Institute for Beauty in Portland. "Braiding is styling. It doesn't matter if it's Caucasian or ethnic hair. Ethnic hair is not different in that regard.
MP: The full article is worth reading; there is a good discussion of state occupational licensing in general.  In the 1950s only about 5% of Americans needed a state license to work, but now it's about one-third of the workforce can't work without a license from the state government. And the article points out that we can thank the recession for bringing excessive over-regulation of occupations into the public awareness, as workers run up against state occupational licensing as they face involuntary career changes.

I think the two most important questions to ask are: If hairbraiders are required to have a state cosmetology license to practice hairbraiding, 1) what would happen to the price they charge for their services, and 2) what would happen to the quality of their services.  If you answered, "Go up significantly" and "Nothing," you can go to the head of the class, as Walter E. Williams would say.

Like for so many issues, this a perfect time to invoke Bastiat's message: "Treat all economic questions from the viewpoint of the consumer, for the interests of the consumer are the interests of the human race."

HT: Wayne Sanman


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