Blocking economic empowerment: It takes 6 years to get an Interior Design license from some states

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

When one thinks of occupational licensing boards, a number of images may come to mind: white coated medical students working long intern hours, over-taxed law students hunched over bar prep books in the wee hours of the morning and of course, the grueling six year certification process of interior designers.

Oh, you hadn’t heard about that last one?

As ridiculous as it may seem, in three states (Nevada, Louisiana, and Florida) and two territories (District of Columbia and Puerto Rico,) this is the reality that aspiring entrepreneurs face when trying to enter the seemingly inoffensive market of interior design.

According to the Institute for Justice, interior design, where it is regulated by licensing boards, has the highest education burden of lower-income occupations to enter, requiring a staggering 2,190 days of education on average. In addition, these states also require a test known as “the NCIDQ” (National Council for Interior Design Qualification,) which is notoriously difficult and also cost-prohibitive, costing as much as $675 to apply and register for the test.

One of rationales for this seemingly absurd standard comes from the “consumer protection” angle. In a 2011 Florida House hearing, an interior designer was quoted as saying that interior design “sounds like this simple hanging curtains on a wall… [but] it only takes a couple things to go wrong for people to lose their lives.”

While this may seem like a somewhat legitimate concern, it is immediately exposed as fraudulent and self-serving when one examines the licensing requirements for another high risk job — Emergency Medical Technician (EMT.) EMTs, who can do everything right and still lose a life, require an average of 33 days of education and training, or roughly 1.5 percent of the training time of an interior designer. This exposes this sinister nature of this process; the current members of occupational licensing boards don’t want new competitors, and will make an applicant jump through as many bureaucratic hoops as possible to ensure the least number of new competitors enter the market.

Of course, these barriers to entry presumably placed in the name of “consumer protection” and “professional standards” do not affect the upper class citizen who has the time and capital to more easily navigate these hurdles. Instead, they hurt the people and groups that need economic empowerment the most, such as families of military personnel, who move often and would have to re-certify in different states, or low-income, multi-job workers looking to improve their circumstances but cannot make time for the education standards despite having talent in an industry.

The simple fact is that middle and lower class Americans do not have the time or money to invest in entering this or similarly regulated markets, and will thus are denied opportunities for economic mobility.

Luckily, there is hope. It would appear that the issue of overregulation in licensing boards has finally caught the eye of a number of legislators on Capitol Hill. Senators  Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and Ben Sasse, as well as Representative Darrell Issa have introduced the Restoring Board Immunity Act, which is aimed at helping states reform occupational boards. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission, fresh off of a 2015 Supreme Court victory over the Board of North Carolina Dental Examiners, has introduced an Economic Liberty Task Force to help educate and advocate on the issue. If these measures succeed, Americans of all walks of life will soon be able to seek better employment and opportunity without the burden of anti-competitive licensing boards.


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