Wendy Swart was a cosmetologist in Pennsylvania for more than 30 years. Dana Presley cut hair in Florida for more than a decade. Dawn Roy was a teacher in Arkansas.
What do each of these women have in common? They were all professionals licensed in other states who moved to Mississippi ready to work, only to receive a red light from government upon entering what we call the Hospitality State.
Wendy’s husband landed a job in South Mississippi, necessitating the move. Similar story with Dana, whose husband began working at Mississippi State. They thought transferring their cosmetology licenses, which had spotless records, would be easy. The same is true of Dawn. She moved back to Mississippi to be near family. Yet while we often hear of teacher shortages, she continued to run into trouble in getting a license.
In a state that is losing thousands of residents each year and had the highest unemployment rate in the country pre-pandemic, we are making it hard for those actually moving to Mississippi and wanting to work here. It makes no sense to allow the government to obstruct an individual’s ability to work and earn a living.
If our goals are to encourage people to move to Mississippi and to make it easier to work, that can – and should – change.
Last year, Arizona became the first state in the nation to provide universal recognition for occupational licenses, even if the state you are moving from won’t recognize a license you received in Arizona. The premise is simple: If you learned to cut hair in, say, Florida or Pennsylvania, you should be able to cut hair in Mississippi. Common sense would tell us you don’t forget how to practice a skill you’ve dedicated your life to just because you cross state lines.
What has that meant for Arizona? In one of the fastest growing states in America, in the past year over 1,100 new Arizonans have applied for and been granted a license to work in the Grand Canyon State in fields ranging from cosmetology to engineering.
Multiple bills were introduced this year to bring such a law to the Magnolia State. It’s much needed, but all bills died in committee without consideration. While Mississippi punted, Montana, Pennsylvania, Utah, Idaho, Iowa, and Missouri all followed Arizona.
The reason such a law is necessary is because many boards in the state claim to offer reciprocity. Yet those boards are tasked with trying to compare education or training across the 50 states, either delaying your ability to work for an extended period of time or preventing you from working at all. Often, they will demand you take new classes to re-learn what you’ve already been taught, requiring an investment of both time and money.
A similar measure exclusively for military families was signed into law this year. Now, applicants in military families are eligible to receive a license if they have held a license in good standing for at least one year and they completed testing or training requirements in the initiating state. If you come from a state that does not require a license in a field that Mississippi does, you have a clear pathway to licensure if you have worked for at least three years in that field. Moreover, boards are required to issue a temporary license if an application may take longer than two weeks to process.
Those are all great steps that could help steer the state’s economy in the right direction. It just needs to be expanded. After all, today, about one in five need a license to work, a strong contrast from the 1950s when just five percent of the population needed permission from the government to earn a living.
It should not be this difficult to work in Mississippi. For a state that has been on the wrong side of domestic migration over the past half-decade and during a time of economic uncertainty, we should be welcoming new residents with open arms to the state. Instead, we are putting up roadblocks.
Let’s remove government barriers and make it easier to work.
This column appeared in the Starkville Daily News on September 4, 2020.