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Pursuing Occupational Licensing Reform in Georgia

At Georgia Justice Project, we believe someone’s past should not prevent them from pursuing their career goals and serving their community. This year at the Capitol, we are pursuing occupational licensing reform to ensure fair access to licensed work for people with criminal records. 

Occupational licensing refers to professions that require a state license or clearance to work. The 4.5 million people with a Georgia criminal record often find themselves limited, deterred, or rejected from these jobs due to their record, even when those records are old, expunged, or pardoned.  As of 2021, over two thirds of states have passed licensing reform, allowing more people with criminal records to obtain professional licenses,[1] leaving Georgia in the dust as old, irrelevant criminal records can still prevent licensure. Reform is needed not only to provide fair access to good jobs, but also to meet workforce demand and reduce recidivism.

First, Georgia’s workforce badly needs more qualified workers in skilled licensed jobs.  1 in 7 jobs in Georgia require an occupational license,[2] including 1 in 4 of Georgia’s high-demand jobs.[3]  Current shortages of licensed workers like skilled trades contractors, nurses, accountants, teachers, CNAs, and EMTs affect us all.[4]  Because of outdated licensing laws, the 40% of Georgia adults who have a criminal record are often barred or discouraged from filling these workforce needs.  This is true even though many people with criminal records are both qualified and motivated to enter licensed fields.

Second, people with criminal records deserve fair access to licensed professions.  Because of employment barriers, the unemployment rate for people with criminal records is five times higher than the state-wide unemployment rate.  Access to licensed jobs for people with records means broader employment options, higher wages, lower unemployment, greater stability, and access to entrepreneurship.[5]  Stable, well-paying licensed careers should not be reserved for people who have never interacted with the criminal legal system.  Access to licensed work is particularly important for Black women and other women of color, because women are 33% more likely to be licensed professionals[6] and the criminal legal system disproportionately impacts Black women and other women of color.[7]  Studies also show that access to licensed professions for women of color decreases the gender wage gap.[8]   Licensing reform is a matter of racial and gender justice.

Finally, fair access to licensed jobs reduces recidivism.  Multiple studies show that states with more barriers to licensure for people with records have higher recidivism rates than states with less burdens.[9]  This comes as no surprise, since having a job of any kind reduces one’s chance of rearrest by more than 50%,[10] but having a higher-paying job can reduce recidivism by an additional 50%.[11]  Allowing fair access to good licensed jobs enhances public safety. 

It’s time for Georgia to catch up to our peer states—including Louisiana, North Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Missouri, and more—by passing comprehensive occupational licensing reform.   You can sign up for action alerts, learn more about how to take action, and share your own licensing story to make this needed reform a reality in Georgia.

[1] New occupational licensing laws in 2021 (ccresourcecenter.org)

[2] Results – Institute for Justice (ij.org)

[3] See Demand Occupations – WorkSource (atlworks.org)

[4] See id.

[5] See How occupational licensing matters for wages and careers (brookings.edu); see also Toolkit-Fair-Chance-Licensing-Reform.pdf (nelp.org)

[6] Professional certifications and occupational licenses: evidence from the Current Population Survey : Monthly Labor Review: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov)

[7] Collateral Consequences: The Crossroads of Punishment, Redemption, and the Effects on Communities (2019): U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, at p. 81 (noting that 2016, the incarceration rate for Black women was almost double that for white women, and in 2014, the incarceration rate for Latina women was 1.2 times the rate for white women).

[8] Research Spotlight: Occupational Licensing Reduces Racial and Gender Wage Gaps | HCEO (uchicago.edu)

[9] Turning shackles into bootstraps: Why occupational licensing reform is the missing piece of criminal justice reform. Stephen Slivinski for the Center for the Study of Economic Liberty (2016); see also Bridging the Divide: Licensing and Recidivism.  Vittorio Nastasi and Samuel R. Staley for the James Madison Institute (2019).

[10] Safer Foundation. Safer Foundation three-year recidivism study (2008).

[11] Toolkit-Fair-Chance-Licensing-Reform.pdf (nelp.org)

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