We Must Free Americans to Work

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Established as a federal holiday in the late 1800s, Labor Day marks how American workers have contributed to the country’s successes. It is a holiday to celebrate the dignity of workers—but respecting the dignity of workers demands that we respect the choices they make regarding their careers. But too often, government stands in the way of those choices, tying workers up in unnecessary red tape that prevents them from doing the work they want to do.

That’s why we must free Americans to work. The Goldwater Institute’s Breaking Down Barriers to Work law cuts that red tape and makes it easier for Americans to work in the career of their choice.

At present, around one in four Americans is required to obtain a license in order to be able to do their job—a government permission slip to work in a certain career. These government-imposed barriers exist for a wide range of professions: barbers, plumbers, real estate agents, sign language interpreters, florists, landscapers, coaches, interior designers, and many others. No matter how qualified someone is, Americans must re-apply for permission to work when they move to a new state.

But under Breaking Down Barriers to Work, a new resident of a state is eligible to receive a license to practice their profession, so long as the applicant has held a license in good standing for at least one year and was required to complete testing or training requirements in the initiating state. It’s all about streamlining the licensing process for everyone: State licensing boards don’t have to devote unnecessary time to comparing education or training requirements across all 50 states, and applicants are no longer required to jump through hoops just to continue a career they were already doing safely and productively elsewhere.

Breaking Down Barriers to Work is particularly beneficial for low-income workers—those least able to afford the time and money needed to get re-licensed each time an opportunity across state lines comes up. Having to meet a state’s licensing requirements upon moving there hampers low-income Americans’ ability to take advantage of a job opportunity that arises in another state—in some cases, it may simply be a bridge too far. But Breaking Down Barriers can make it more possible for such a worker to seize an opportunity that comes their way.

Breaking Down Barriers to Work has been garnering bipartisan support in states across the country, because it’s a reform that’s simply common sense. Since Arizona passed Goldwater’s law back in 2019, several states have followed suit: To date, 16 additional states have passed our reform, and you can look for additional states to take up this law in their next legislative session.

And in the states where Breaking Down Barriers is on the books, it’s having real results. So far, nearly 4,000 workers have already benefited from the law in Arizona alone.

This Labor Day, we should keep the dignity of American workers in mind—and in particular, how we can ensure that Americans are free to make a living in the careers they want and need. Breaking Down Barriers is a needed reform to free Americans to work.

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This article was published on September 6, 2021 and is reproduced with permission from the Goldwater Institute.

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