By. Dr. Darwyyn Deyo
As Americans are trying to get back to work after the extended coronavirus pandemic, we should try to make it easier for people to find a job, not more difficult. The last thing we should do is create licensing requirements for more professions.
Even though the Biden administration just issued an executive order directing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to address unfair occupational licensing requirements in July, there is now pressure to add licensing requirements to become a pet groomer.
Currently, pet groomers do not face the web of state occupational licensing requirements in the United States, unlike the over 800 occupations licensed in at least one state. They do much the same work with pets as cosmetologists and barbers do with humans. Pet groomers wash, cut, and style pets’ hair instead of those of humans.
However, unlike cosmetologists and barbers, they do not face occupational licensing requirements. This means that pet groomers also don’t face the same barriers to finding a job. These requirements cost both time and money to complete. Newly licensed workers also face a significant student debt burden.
Arguments in favor of licensing usually appeal to protecting the public’s health and safety. However, when new licensing requirements are passed, it is not usually the existing professionals who have to comply with the regulation. Existing professionals are often “grandfathered” in. That means that they can avoid the costly new compliance requirements, while their new competitors must go through years of training and education and pass licensing exams. Even worse, these are often evaluated by the very professionals with whom applicants might compete, a clear conflict of interest.
A growing body of research on the effects of licensing on quality has found that licensing often does not actually improve quality, and in some cases can make it worse as professionals face less market competition.
Fortunately, licensing is not the only way to protect the public. There are several other reliable measures which customers can use to ensure they are getting a high-quality and safe pet grooming service. One common measure many of us already use when choosing where to shop is to check the ratings for businesses on websites like Yelp and Angie’s List. Public reviews for pet grooming services are also readily available.
Can this actually work? My forthcoming research compares the Yelp consumer ratings for human beauty services and pet groomers. I found that state licensing requirements were not associated with overall higher quality for human beauty services. In fact, the average ratings for licensed establishments were as much as one star less than for unlicensed establishments, including pet groomers.
Another alternative to requiring occupational licensing is for customers to seek out recommendations and referrals from trusted friends, families, and veterinarians. Pet groomers want to protect their reputations and encourage repeat business.
Pet groomers could also pursue voluntary certification. Although certification is not required in order for them to practice, they could complete additional education and training to show consumers the quality of their work. Certification courses are already offered. Customers can use these certification credentials when looking for pet groomers, as with Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification for mechanics.
The best part of certification is pet groomers without the certification can work without facing criminal penalties, as has been the case for other occupations. Licensing also often creates blanket labor market barriers for people with any criminal record.
Creating further barriers to work just protects special interests at a time when so many Americans are seeking employment. We spent nearly $100 billion on our pets last year. Requiring licensing for pet groomers would increase those costs without even improving the quality of our pets’ grooming.
For now, pet groomers do not carry extraordinary amounts of student debt from pet grooming schools or face criminal penalties for working without a license. It can be heartbreaking when accidents occur or foul play happens, but pet groomer licensing is a blunt tool that is ill-suited to the task of ensuring pet safety or quality pet grooming.
With the FTC going after unfair occupational licensing, and about a quarter of the U.S. workforce already needing a license to do their job, this is no time to create more barriers to work and raise costs to consumers – not when other reliable measures to ensure quality pet grooming are already available.
Darwyyn Deyo is an Assistant Professor of Economics at San José State University and a Visiting Scholar with the Knee Center for the Study of Occupational Regulation.