If you ever have any doubt that common sense is in short supply, look no further than America’s criminal justice system.
The US incarcerates more people per capita than any other country in the world. Is it because Americans are just so much more violent? Because we have so many guns? Because we’re such a big country?
No. No. And no.
It’s because we have a really big government that has put a lot of asinine policies into place that not only ensure people who have no business being locked up end up behind bars, but also makes it practically impossible for them to reenter society when they do.
This is why the US recidivism rate is also amongst the highest in the world, with almost 44% of people returning to incarceration one year after they are released.
One overt reason for that is that many states make it all but impossible for these individuals to get a job. This is quite obviously counterintuitive. If you don’t allow people with a record to work, they will clearly have to seek ways to survive under the table—thus leading to cycles of criminality that cost taxpayers oozes, suck up resources that should be devoted to actually solving violent crime, and as a whole put a drag on the economy as many are unable to hire perfectly good workers thanks to these government regulations.
One such way the government does this is through occupational licensing. If you’re fortunate enough to be in a field that doesn’t require one, you may be unaware of just how big of a problem these pieces of paper have become. Nearly 30% of American workers must pay the government for the “privilege” of working these days, and before they can even do that, they often have to pay a lot more to acquire training and complete other government mandates just to be eligible for the job.
This is of course a huge government grift. The vast majority of these fields have no business being licensed and no public health or safety component. Across the country, states make you get a license for fields as absurd as being a natural hair braider, a florist, an auctioneer, or a funeral director. The government puts these laws in place so you have to pay them, you have to pay their friends at trade schools and other accrediting entities that lobby them for these mandates, and so that industry insiders can keep prices artificially high by limiting the competition.
The professional class that supports policies like housing regulation and occupational licensing to inflate their home values and salaries has had a worse impact on opportunities for the poor than the 1%, although the latter gets a lot more attention from the left
— Chris Freiman (@cafreiman) January 6, 2023
But worst of all, these occupational licenses often include a “morality” clause that prohibits people with a record from being able to jump through any of these hoops in the first place. Keep in mind that many blue collar jobs that should be available to someone coming out of prison, require such a license.
So we are blocking those reentering society from doing the right thing and even attempting to get their life back on the right course.
It’s so stupid it’s sinister.
End occupational licensing laws. They’re protectionist rackets that discriminate against young and low-income workers, reduce competition for jobs, decrease innovation and standards, and raise the prices of goods and services.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) December 5, 2022
Fortunately in South Carolina, many agree. A piece of legislation is currently working its way through the legislature that would prohibit the state from denying occupational licenses based on previous criminal convictions. It passed the House unanimously and with the support of Speaker Murrell Smith earlier this year and is now onto the Senate.
If it succeeds, the bill will also require the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation to send a letter to licensees about complaints filed against them that lead to an investigation, as well as inform them when these matters are reviewed and resolved.
You shouldn’t have to get permission from the government to work in this country. The very notion is an assault on the American Dream and our basic values. We need more of this energy in every state across the country.
Hannah is a consultant for Americans for Prosperity which works on these issues.
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