Braiding hair is a pleasant, time-tested, common activity practiced by children and adults across cultural communities.
It also requires a license in Florida.
According to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, hair braiders looking to be compensated for their talents as either employees or small business entrepreneurs first need a state-issued license.
Regardless of skill-level or experience, legal braiding requires 16 hours of mandatory instruction from a state Board of Cosmetology-approved training course, followed by an exam covering scalp disorders, bacteriology and communicable diseases.
Only then will the department consider an application — with corresponding fees. Criminal history is grounds for denial and licenses from other states cannot be substituted.
Similar regulations exist for hair wrappers, which involves braiding colorful strands of thread into hair. More onerous requirements exist for manicurists (240 hours of instruction) and facial specialists (260 hours.)
All of these so-called specialty licenses can be obtained with an umbrella cosmetology license, requiring 1,000 to 1,200 hours of instruction, equivalent to 20 hours a week for 12 months.
But is it really necessary?
The Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, says the costs of these types of regulations outweigh the benefits, and actually serve to discourage otherwise qualified people from making an honest living.
The nonprofit group has spent several years spotlighting occupational licensing red tape. It identified 102 debatable licensing categories in a 2012 report called Licensed to Work. Last week, it took aim at hair braiding — a marketable activity in many African-American communities.
“Proponents of (hair braiding) licensing attempt to justify it by arguing that licensing is necessary to protect public health and safety from unskilled or untrained practitioners,” states Angela C. Erickson in Barriers to Braiding, a study examining the validity of hair braiding public safety claims.
The study reviews complaint records from nine states and the District of Columbia from 2006-2012. Evidence of safety issues would appear in complaint files.
The study showed there were no discernable safety advantages from states requiring hundreds of hair braiding training hours over states requiring very few or none at all. However, states with more onerous requirements had many fewer licensed workers.
Of the more than 9,700 hair braiders registered during the seven-year period, 95 had a complaint file — most of them were in Florida. Just 27 complaints were lodged across the nine states and D.C. against individuals for performing unlicensed work.
Only one complaint was filed by an actual customer. Regulatory inspectors mostly filed the rest over license status issues.
In Florida, 80 percent of filed complaints originated from the state’s own Board of Cosmetology, a regulatory body operating within the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
Only four Florida complaints — over seven years — dealt with safety issues. One was dismissed, another involved two separate unspecified citations that led to a $100 fine, and the fourth cited a salon for dirty fixtures and unlicensed work, a $500 fine.
“The results add to a growing body of research that calls into question the link between licensing and quality or consumer protection,” concluded Erickson.
Licensing burdens vary wildly among states, and appear to have a negative effect on employment.
In Oklahoma, the state’s 600 mandated training hours produced just four registered hair braiders. Nevada’s 250 hours yielded 13, Texas’s 35 hours led to 1,943 and Florida’s 16 hours netted 6,097.
It’s an unfortunate correlation for those seeking these low-and-moderate income jobs, and it may be by design.
Once a licensing scheme is in place, occupational insiders often try to expand regulations, the study reports.
“Because the state boards set up to oversee licensed occupations typically comprise members of the occupation, licensing can give current practitioners the power to push such boundaries, thereby absorbing — or fencing out — competition.”