The State Worker

Veterans and criminals suffer in California’s mandate for professional licenses, report says

A new report from the Little Hoover Commission urges the Legislature to “embrace” professionally trained immigrants. Often, well-educated immigrants take jobs with salaries because state-mandated professional license programs stall them from pursuing the careers they held in their home countries. A recent Bee investigation found well-educated Afghan refugees in Sacramento County taking low-wage jobs for that reason.
A new report from the Little Hoover Commission urges the Legislature to “embrace” professionally trained immigrants. Often, well-educated immigrants take jobs with salaries because state-mandated professional license programs stall them from pursuing the careers they held in their home countries. A recent Bee investigation found well-educated Afghan refugees in Sacramento County taking low-wage jobs for that reason. rbyer@sacbee.com

Add navigating California’s byzantine professional license standards to the list of obstacles a job applicant faces after leaving the military or getting out of prison.

That system – in place since the Gold Rush – often places a disproportionate burden on some of the state’s most vulnerable residents, according to a new report from the Little Hoover Commission.

It found that California demands more from people who want to start careers in modest-wage jobs, such as manicurists and pest-control applicators, than almost any other state.

It also calls attention to the barriers California places in front of four groups of people who commonly move from state to state, or who are beginning new careers after major life changes. They are veterans, military spouses, former criminal offenders and professionally trained immigrants.

In many cases, the report said, California adopted professional license requirements to protect consumers. But over time, those standards can be used to favor those who already have them to prevent others from pursuing new careers.

“Getting government out of the way of people finding good jobs is a bipartisan issue,” said Little Hoover Commission Chair Pedro Nava, a former assemblyman. “California must review all of its licensing regulations and assess whether the level of consumer protection provided justifies barring entry to occupations and limiting access to services.”

The state now requires about one in five working Californians to obtain some kind of professional license, up from one in 20 in the 1950s. That ratio is just about average among the 50 states.

But the Little Hoover Commission found that almost two-thirds of occupations with modest wages – careers that tend to earn someone less than the national average income – require licenses in California. Only Washington, D.C., and Louisiana demanded more from people pursuing careers in lower-wage fields.

The commission asked the Legislature to pay special attention to military families, who often move several times before settling down. It noted that California recently has taken steps to expedite professional licenses for veterans and military spouses, but that commissioners have heard anecdotes suggesting barriers remain.

The report said people with criminal records tend to be weeded out of professional license programs for unclear reasons. “Unnecessary restrictions on criminal convictions simply punish again people who have already served their time,” the report said.

Immigrants with professional training, meanwhile, often must repeat classes to perform the kinds of jobs they held in their home countries. That often leads to them taking lower-wage jobs.

A recent Bee investigation into the placement of Afghan refugees in Sacramento County, for instance, found a doctor working as a medical translator and another well-educated former U.S. military interpreter earning $10 an hour fixing iPhones. The Little Hoover Commission encouraged the Legislature to “embrace” well-trained workers like them.

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton

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