Why is it so difficult to get a job in Hawaii?


Today’s youth have grown up on the heels of one of the worst global economic recessions in history. The importance of finding a job has never been so highly stressed as it is today, as prices for consumer goods and housing prices in Hawaii continue to rise. These individuals are among thousands who desperately want jobs.

As Baby Boomers move into retirement, opportunities for job seekers are opening across the country. There’s just one issue standing in the way: they can’t get the positions.

So what are we missing here? Why is it so difficult to get a job in Hawaii?

It comes down to one simple phrase: occupational licensing laws.

You’ve never heard of those? Most people haven’t. That is, most people who have never sought a job as a cosmetologist, painter, massage therapist, or auctioneer, among many others.

But for the individuals who have sought those positions, the realities of occupational licensing laws are all too real. These laws are, in short, government permission to work in a particular field. And you guessed it: Hawaii has the most burdensome licensing requirements for low to middle income jobs compared to the rest of the nation.

In a state with the highest cost of living and the highest homelessness per capita rate in the nation, occupational licensing hurts the most vulnerable citizens. Those individuals who are seeking low to middle income jobs in Hawaii often cannot afford the fees and training deemed necessary to obtain a license for certain positions.

Teisha Guillen lives on Maui, and would like to work as a hair stylist. In order for Teisha to get a cosmetology license, she would need pay $200 in fees and have 450 days of training and experience, which could total to more than $17,740.

“I can’t afford that,” said Teisha. “There are just no opportunities here.”

Maybe you’re thinking, wait a minute, I thought regulation and licensing laws exist for consumer protection and safety?

You’re right – license requirements for some careers like contractors do make sense. It’s a high risk job, after all. However, Hawaii’s requirements for general contractors are more than double that of the rest of the nation. It takes more than four years to become a general contractor in Hawaii, and thousands of dollars in fees. Forty-eight other states have far fewer requirements, and 20 states have no requirements at all.

construction hi

Construction and contractor jobs in Hawaii have some of the longest licensing process.

And to top it off, there has been no conclusive evidence found to prove that states that do not require a license have resulted in more accidents than states that do. So what’s with all of this regulation?

The laws have more to do with shutting out competition. Many professions lobby for more regulation in their industries, as regulation eliminates competition, and less competition means more money for the few already in the market.

Think you’re not affected by these licensing laws because you’re not actively seeking a new job? Think again.

Restrictions on work raise consumer prices by as much as 16 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury and Economic Policy.  With consumer prices already through the roof because of shipping costs, the last thing Hawaii needs is an additional boost to prices.

Over the past 30 years, the Hawaii State Auditor has recommended deregulation of low risk professions like barbers, cosmetologists and massage therapists, as they “pose little harm to public health, safety or welfare.”

It’s time that the Hawaii government considers lessening the burdensome regulation of jobs through licensing laws. The people in Hawaii who need jobs the most cannot afford to wait any longer.

So what can you do to learn more and potentially help to reduce these restrictive laws? You can start by downloading our free report on occupational licensing laws.

The biggest barrier to reducing occupational licensing laws is the knowledge gap that exists about them – don’t be part of that any longer. Sign up to download the free report below.

This report is no longer available. For related information, see “Permission to Work in Hawaii.”

Kelsey Meehan was the director of communications of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

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