Washington waives license requirements for the privileged, not for the poor

Aug 11, 2020

If you want to be a hairdresser or manicurist in Washington state, you face a challenge in getting your occupational license approved by the state during the COVID restrictions. The state computer system to confirm you’ve met the requirements has not been working properly for more than a month. And, scheduling a test with the current restrictions is difficult.

If, however, you want to be a lawyer, it is a piece of cake. The bar exams have been waived.

It is the latest example of how government regulation favors the rich while imposing high costs and barriers on workers trying to get a job.

After finishing their 600 to 1,600 hours of training, cosmetologists, barbers, and manicurists – or anyone else for that matter – are put into a state system that allows them to take a test for their occupational license. The state recently replaced the previous system run by an outside contractor with a state-run web page. It hasn’t gone well.

The site was supposed to be ready on July 1. It wasn’t. The Department of Licensing (DOL) sent an e-mail on July 9, saying the system would not be available. They helpfully noted they would waive the July 10 deadline to submit student hours. Then promised the system would be ready by July 16.

It wasn’t. On July 15 they sent another notice saying they were delayed again. One week later, however, they said the system was now working and students and apprentices earning hours for their license could be entered into the system, allowing them to get tested for a license. Once, again, it wasn’t working.

On July 31, they admitted “there are still issues with our system communicating with DL Roope,” the company doing the testing. Additionally, they admitted the system to report the hours logged by students still isn’t working. Students, whose finances are already stretched due to the cost of training and the COVID restrictions, are now having to deal with DOL’s broken promises and failure to get their system working.

This is a good example of the saying “the poor are oppressed by the incompetent.” Many, including the Obama Administration, have highlighted the disproportionate impact of occupational licenses on the poor and immigrants. Additionally, licensing laws have a long history of racial discrimination.

Despite all this, the licensing requirements have not been waived. Although reporting deadlines have been waived because the system did not work, students trying to get credit for their work and take their test are left waiting, without work or an income.

By way of contrast, those preparing for the Bar exam don’t have to worry about this problem. In a letter to the Washington State Supreme Court, the dean of Seattle University’s law school wrote, “The emotional toll of the killings is high and taxing the graduates’ ability to effectively prepare for the bar exam.” These excuses don’t apply to immigrants and low-income workers who don’t have the same privileged connections enjoyed by law students.

It is time to waive the occupational license requirements during the COVID lockdown. Once the lockdown is over, legislators should remove the costly and needless restrictions that make it hard for low-income workers to become self-sufficient.

Sign up for the WPC Newsletter