How licensing makes you wait longer for a haircut


Unless you’re still growing your pandemic beard, you might’ve noticed that getting an appointment with your barber or stylist seems to take longer than it did before the pandemic. 

It’s not all the extra alcohol you got accustomed to consuming on a weekly basis since 2020. The supply of barbers, hairdressers, hair stylists and cosmetologists in New Hampshire really has shrunk in the last several years. As with so many other occupations, the demand for these services exceeds the supply of providers.

And as with so many other areas of the economy, the shortage is made worse by government regulations. 

Fortunately, there’s a simple tweak to state licensing laws that would encourage more licensed personal grooming professionals to move to New Hampshire. 

Barbers, cosmetologists and estheticians are licensed by the state, and the law regulating these professions does not automatically recognize as valid licenses earned in other states. 

RSA 313-A:14 authorizes the Board of Barbering, Cosmetology and Esthetics to recognize an out-of-state license “provided the other state’s licensing requirements are substantially equivalent to or higher than those of this state.”

Sounds harmless. But it’s not. 

It’s not clear how the board is to determine whether a license is “substantially equivalent to” the qualifications for a New Hampshire license. States require varying hours of education and training, but also varying numbers of tests and varying levels of experience. One state’s program might be more effective than another’s even though it requires months’ less training. 

Economists who’ve studied license portability generally prefer blanket license reciprocity. Stephen Slivinski at Arizona State University has studied occupational license portability among the states and found that the general “lack of license portability has real-world impacts. It keeps workers from moving to a state when they might otherwise. Lack of portability is also especially onerous for ‘trailing spouses’ of military members who are often kept out of the workforce when their family is transferred to a new state.”

“Getting a new license requires costly, time-consuming, and duplicative hours of training just to do the job that the worker was already doing before they moved across the state border. As a result, the lack of occupational licensing portability suppresses the labor market opportunities for new residents of a state. Additionally, it has the effect of discouraging people from moving to a new state at all.”

This is a serious issue for New Hampshire, which is suffering a years-long labor shortage. That shortage includes these licensed occupations. 

New Hampshire Employment Security has a single occupational classification that covers hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists. In 2021, the last year for which the state has published data, the total number of hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists in New Hampshire was 1,860. 

In 2017, the number was 2,020. We lost 160 positions in these occupations in four years, even as New Hampshire’s population was growing.

House Bill 409, sponsored by Rep. Diane Pauer, would help to fill that shortage by making it easier for licensed professionals in these fields to move to New Hampshire and begin work immediately, without having to spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to be retrained in the field in which they’ve already been trained.

HB 409 would remove from state law the clause that grants barber, cosmetology and esthetics license reciprocity only when the practitioner’s home state license requirements are “substantially equivalent to or higher than” New Hampshire’s.

What would this change do? 

Well, for barbering, New Hampshire has among the lowest hours-of-education requirements in the nation. We require 800 hours of training to become a barber. Only four states require fewer hours, according to licensing data compiled by the Institute for Justice (IJ). 

One of them is New York, which requires just 291 clock hours of training to become a barber. One could easily argue that this requirement is not substantially similar to New Hampshire’s. But does anyone actually believe that Manhattan barbers pose a danger to New Yorkers, or that a licensed barber who moves from New York to New Hampshire is a danger to Granite Staters?

Vermont, Florida and Oregon also mandate fewer hours of barber training than New Hampshire does.

For cosmetology, New Hampshire requires 1,500 hours of training. Eight states require fewer hours, including Massachusetts and Vermont (both 1,000 hours). California, New York, New Jersey and Florida also require fewer hours of training than New Hampshire, according to IJ’s data. 

Again, it would be absurd to argue that cosmetologists in New York, New Jersey, California, Massachusetts and Vermont are so dangerously undertrained that they should be forbidden from working in New Hampshire. If you’re qualified to cut Sarah Jessica Parker’s hair, you’re surely qualified to cut Jeanne Shaheen’s or Maggie Hassan’s.

Though only a handful of states require fewer hours of training for these occupations, they include some of our neighbors and other states not far away. HB 409 would remove the entirely unnecessary equivalency language and allow licensed professionals in Massachusetts, Vermont, New York and a few other states to relocate here and start working right away. 

This change is unlikely to eliminate the shortage of barbers and hairstylists right away. But it would remove one obstacle that needlessly prevents some professionals from moving here.