National security requires a large, well-trained cadre of warriors ready to perform whenever called upon. No one ever became rich wearing a uniform, however, and service members face economic challenges greater than most civilians do.
In most military families, both spouses want to pursue their own careers — if only to help make ends meet. Yet, even in today’s booming economy, finding work can be difficult for a large number of military spouses because of obstacles that states have placed in their way.
Those barriers are state-law occupational licensing requirements.
States require licenses for a host of positions. Sometimes — as in the case of physicians, lawyers, and accountants — those requirements are sensible. Most of the time, however — as in the case of ballroom-dance instructors, barbers, cosmetologists, florists, interior designers, taxi drivers, travel guides, and home entertainment installers — they are not. These licensing requirements do little or nothing to protect the public safety, health and welfare.
Why do those licensing requirements exist? They create legally protected cartels for current businesses, shutting out competitors who might charge less (for example) to install a home entertainment system.
Businesses do not have the power to prevent potential rivals from offering the same service at a lower price, but they can persuade state legislatures to do their dirty work for them through a licensing requirement (one that grandfathers them in, of course). The result is a restriction of the supply of a particular service — which thereby increases the price that licensed parties can charge, without any corresponding increase in the safety or quality of the service provided.
Why are licensing requirements particularly harmful for military spouses? States do not guarantee that a new resident can bring whatever occupational license he or she has to the new abode. States (say, California) can require a licensee (say, from Virginia) to repeat all the hours of education and training, along with their hundreds or thousands of dollars of expenses, that he or she spent obtaining a license in the previous state.
Service members do not make a ton of money. Often, they count on their spouses’ income to help keep the family afloat. A state’s refusal to accept occupational licenses earned out-of-state by military spouses can slice off a considerable amount of income that grunts, sailors and airmen need.
It’s a big problem because 35% of military spouses work in fields subject to licensure, and they are 10 times more likely than civilians to be relocated to a new state. Career military members are transferred often, an average of nine times during their career.
So big, in fact, that state occupational licensing requirements can deter service members from “reupping” when their enlistment ends because they cannot afford the lost income. That means the services lose well-trained, qualified individuals.
Licensing requirements also can deter civilians from enlisting in the first place, which keeps our all-volunteer forces from meeting their personnel needs.
Some members of Congress are aware of this problem and have a fix in mind.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers — Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Martha McSally of Arizona, Denocratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Republican Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, and Democratic Rep. Susan Davis of California — have introduced the Portable Certification of Spouses Act of 2019.
The act would nudge the states in the direction of lifting their artificial restraints on competition. It would deem a military spouse to be a resident of a state from which he or she moved. It also would authorize the Secretary of Defense, for five years, to enter into a cooperative agreement with the Council of State Governments and assist funding of interstate compacts that make licenses portable.
America relies on an all-volunteer army. We cannot let the states impede our military preparedness through onerous licensing requirements. Some members of Congress have come up with a mild but useful remedy. Hopefully, a majority will agree.
This piece originally appeared in The Washington Times