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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Licensing burdens for some occupations remain high in Puerto Rico, report says


The burden for some 49 licenses in Puerto Rico examined in the License to Work report was 144 days of required education and experience, at least one exam, and $228 in fees, on average.

By The Star Staff


Licensing burdens for certain occupations in Puerto Rico remain high when compared to other states, hindering the island’s competitiveness and work opportunities, according to a recent report by the Institute for Justice (IJ), “License to Work: A National Study of the Burdens of Occupational Licensing.”


The report provides an updated snapshot of licensing’s breadth and burdens for 102 lower-income occupations across all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. It also presents an overview of major changes in licensing requirements for the 102 occupations that have been tracked since the 2017 edition.


Occupational licenses are permits issued by a government or regulatory entity for a person to work in a certain field. These licenses typically require the applicant to meet several education and experience requirements, as well as pass exams and pay fees. These demands are considered a burden for lower-income individuals, since the combination of effort, time and cost can be a barrier against working in a trade or profession, the report said.


Despite widespread acknowledgment of this reality, the study shows that licensing burdens remain high and pervasive. In Puerto Rico, there are 129 occupational licenses (not counting licenses for sports occupations), of which 49 were part of the sample examined in License to Work. The burden for those 49 licenses was 144 days of required education and experience, at least one exam, and $228 in fees, on average. That does not include burdens from required schooling, according to the report.


Five years after the second edition, and 10 years after the first, the third edition of License to Work finds that licensing continues to be widespread, burdensome, and -- frequently -- irrational; but it also found what the IJ sees as some good news: Since 2017, states have eliminated more licenses than they created, and nearly 20% of licenses became less burdensome. Still, there remains much room, and need, for improvement, the IJ noted, and License to Work also provides a roadmap for meaningful reform.


“Reductions in licensing and licensing burdens from the past five years show reform is possible -- but much more remains to be done,” said IJ Senior Director of Strategic Research Lisa Knepper. “Decades of research has found licensing imposes substantial costs on workers, consumers, and the economy at large, often with little public benefit. Yet we found that for lower-income Americans, licensing remains both burdensome and widespread, and often simply doesn’t make sense.”


“Occupational licenses are thought to be necessary to protect consumers from unsafe or substandard services; but the evidence indicates that these licenses do not accomplish this, since they are only based on meeting certain requirements and not on demonstrating the person’s competence,” said Ángel Carrión Tavárez, director of research and policy at the Puerto Rico Institute for Economic Liberty. “Instead, many end up limiting opportunities to find work or open a business.”


Among the occupational licenses in Puerto Rico whose education requirements are well above the minimum requirements in the United States, the following stand out: manicurists: 1,000 hours vs. 12 hours in Alaska; skin care specialists: 1,000 hours vs. 220 hours in Florida; electrical helpers: 500 hours vs. 0 hours in the only three states that have this license; and pharmacy technicians: an associate degree and a 1,000-hour supervised internship, requirements that exceed those of all other jurisdictions.


“In Puerto Rico there are cases of occupational requirements that do not correspond to the risk; for example, almost eight months of preparation for cosmetology are required, including shampooers and makeup artists; while three months are required for an emergency medical technician to care for people in life-or-death situations,” CarriónTavárez said in a statement. “This leads us to question whether licenses are really designed to protect health and safety or guarantee the quality of a service.”


The most direct way to free workers and entrepreneurs from licensing red tape, according to the IJ, is to repeal licenses that are not needed and reduce barriers that are too steep. Lawmakers should also exempt services that are perfectly safe and prevent new licenses from getting on the books. The report’s state-by-state results and online “Compare states” feature are resources available to lawmakers and others interested in reforming occupational licenses in Puerto Rico.


The inclusion of the island in License to Work was the result of a study carried out by the University of Puerto Rico and the collaboration of the Institute for Economic Liberty, IJ, and Knee Center for the Study of Occupational Regulation at West Virginia University.


“The results of this study and the License to Work report demonstrate that there is room to improve occupational license legislation in Puerto Rico, for the benefit of society in general,” Carrión Tavárez said.

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