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Let’s Free Americans to Work

September 4, 2020

September 4, 2020

Since it was established as a federal holiday more than a century ago, Labor Day has been a day to celebrate the efforts and contributions of American workers to our nation’s success. But the best way to really pay tribute to America’s workers is to pass laws that really look out for them—that truly free them to work in the professions they choose, without unnecessary government involvement.

The road for American workers in 2020 has been a bumpy one, with cut hours, furloughs, and job losses all too common. In the face of such challenges, it’s especially important to make it as easy as possible for Americans to get to work. That’s what the Goldwater Institute-designed Breaking Down Barriers to Work law is all about—cutting the red tape that ties many workers’ hands.

Right now, about 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.

Especially at a time when getting back to work is so important for American workers, Breaking Down Barriers to Work is a commonsense reform. And fortunately, many states have already moved to adopt it. In April 2019, Arizona became the first state to pass the law—and since then, ten additional states have passed their own versions of it. Other states will be considering it when their legislatures return to session.

Even in a short period of time, the positive impact of Breaking Down Barriers has been undeniable. Throughout the year, Goldwater Institute National Investigative Journalist Mark Flatten has been compiling data about the usage of Arizona’s law—and to date, more than 1,600 Arizonans have already benefited from the law. And that number will continue to grow as time goes by.

As we take time this weekend to celebrate American workers, let’s also reflect on how to make it easier for Americans to enter and stay in the careers they want and need. Breaking Down Barriers to Work is one way we can ensure Americans are free to work, no matter where they live.



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