Understanding the Data on Occupational Licensing

Data from the 2015 Current Population Survey (CPS) shed light on the extent and patterns of occupational licensure across the United States. Occupational licensure—the requirement that employees obtain government permission to work in certain occupations—is most common among women and high earners. Workers below age 35 are less likely to have a license. The rate of licensure differs little among the states, and much of the variation is explained by demographics. The licensure rate is highest in Maine and Alaska, and lowest in Georgia and North Carolina. The CPS also shows the limitations of data on this subject: Even in a large nationwide survey, few professions are numerous enough to statistically analyze on their own. Furthermore, data from survey respondents are not very reliable: 18 percent of employed physicians and surgeons in the data claim that they do not have a government-issued certification or license. Nonetheless, policymakers need not wait for perfect data on licensure to begin reviewing and reforming occupational regulations.

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