New Yorkers are hurting for jobs. But New York state lawmakers are poised to make it even tougher to earn a paycheck, by concocting licensing requirements for something as simple as giving a shampoo. The Albany pols have something to gain: campaign contributions from those pushing the new requirement. But if you’re eyeing a job in a hair salon, the Legislature is making your life harder. Irrational occupational licensing is a job killer.
More restrictions on who can work is the last thing the Empire State needs right now. Unemployment is over 15 percent statewide and 20 percent in New York City. Jobs in personal care are down a staggering 37 percent, owing to the coronavirus lockdowns.
Even so, Albany lawmakers want to create a new state certificate for “Shampoo Assistant,” the person who helps you on with your plastic cape, bends you back to the wash sink and shampoos your hair. “Wet, Wash, Rinse, Repeat.” Sounds simple. But in New York, it will require completing 500 hours of training at a state-certified cosmetology school.
New York law already requires that anyone providing beauty services must graduate from a certified cosmetology school, pass exams and get a state license. But in practice, the requirement has applied to coloring, cutting and styling hair, not shampooing. The same people who answer the phone, fold towels and sweep up handle the shampooing.
The Salon & Spa Professionals of New York State are pushing the new restrictions. The organization rakes in membership fees from cosmetology schools. Its goal is to prevent people from working in the beauty industry until they’ve forked over a huge tuition to get a cosmetology certificate.
Tuition at Academy NYC of Cosmetology and Esthetics runs $14,500 for the 1,000 hours required to apply for a cosmetology license. Aveda Institute is even pricier, $16,995 for the course. It’s a racket. Many students go into debt and have little chance of ever making enough to pay it back.
This racket wouldn’t exist, except for the cooperation of New York legislators. To complete the money trail, Richard Ostroff of Ostroff Associates, the lobbying firm that represents Salon & Spa Professionals of NYS, has donated $1,150 to Assemblyman John McDonald III and $1,500 to Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, two of the Albany Democrats pushing for Shampoo Assistant certification.
Everybody makes out like a bandit. Everybody, that is, but the working person who needs a salon job.
Similar licensing scams are hurting working people all across the nation. New York’s requirements aren’t even the worst. Some states require as many as 2,100 hours of cosmetology school training to work in a salon. That’s almost twice what is needed to become an emergency medical technician, making life and death decisions in the back of an ambulance.
State licensing abuses extend to many other occupations, from hair braiding and makeup artistry to interior designer and landscape architecture. The goal is always to keep out competition.
Now, in the depths of the pandemic downturn, states should be eliminating barriers to employment, not piling on new ones. Florida just enacted the Occupational Freedom and Opportunity Act, a law to deregulate many occupations and make it easier for people to earn a living. Unreasonable educational requirements and licensing fees keep people out of work. New York should copy Florida’s new law.
Albany lawmakers should be culling existing state occupational regulations to eliminate all but the few needed to protect the public’s health and safety. For example, instead of 1,000 hours of expensive training at a cosmetology school, beauty salon workers should be required to take only a course in hygiene, to protect their clients from infectious diseases such as the coronavirus and common bacterial diseases, such as staph, which are often transmitted in nail salons.
But there is one profession that seems to need more oversight, not less. That’s the politicians themselves, who could use lessons on the harms done by overregulation. And, oh yes, on ethics.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York.