Research & Commentary: Lowering Professional Licensing Barriers for Ex-Offenders

The Heartland Institute

By Matthew Glans

Nearly one in three Americans need an occupational license to do their job, even though these burdensome licenses harm consumers, entrepreneurs, and jobseekers. On average, low- and medium-income jobseekers in licensed professions are required to spend nine months in education or training, pass an exam, and pay more than $200 in fees, according to the Institute for Justice.

The situation is even worse for those attempting to reenter society after serving time. According to the Alliance for a Just Society, on average, states have 56 occupational licensing and 43 business licensing laws that ban applicants with felony convictions. In many instances, felons are immediately disqualified from obtaining a license, even if the job has little to do with their offense.

Giving former offenders the opportunity to reenter the workforce is important. Each year, more than 10 million adults are freed from prison and finding a job is a serious challenge for them. Obtaining gainful employment is one of the most powerful tools for lowering recidivism. According to a study from the Manhattan Institute, ex-offenders who quickly found employment after being released were 20 percent less likely to return behind bars.

Ending blanket bans for ex-offenders is essential because these onerous rules do little to protect public health and safety while making it more likely these individuals will remain unemployed. Fortunately, there are several reforms that would make the license system fairer for ex-offenders while ensuring public safety.

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