As we toss the empty champagne bottles and say goodbye to 2018, it’s time to start thinking about what the new year will bring—aside from the multitude of would-be presidential candidates jockeying for attention. With that circus gearing up for prime time and split congressional control, it’s a safe bet that large policy changes at the federal level will have to wait.
But rather than lamenting the gridlock in Washington, DC, those resolving to make a difference in 2019 should turn their attention to the arguably more important state and local level. Here is our top three wish-list for state and local policy reforms in 2019:
Occupational Licensing Reform
In many states, if you want to braid hair or coach after school sports, you might have to go through the lengthy and expensive process of obtaining an occupational license first. Occupational licenses are essentially government granted permission slips that many occupations require before you can start providing those services. Such requirements have increased exponentially in recent years. In the 1950s only about 1 in 20 occupations required a license to work, today that number is about 1 in 4—covering everything from florists to interior designers depending on the state.
Often enacted under the guise of protecting public health and safety, there is strong evidence that such requirements rarely achieve that goal. Instead, established service-providers regularly lobby for and then use the requirements as a means of keeping out competition. Overall, occupational licensing requirements have been linked to lower rates of upward economic mobility and even to higher levels of income inequality. Ensuring that each person can use their talents to their fullest potential without arbitrary government restrictions belongs on any 2019 wish list.
As our economy changes many urban areas are ideal settings for starting and building a promising career. Unfortunately, these same urban areas have a giant wall around them: high cost of living. This is mostly due to the incredibly high cost to rent or purchase a home in these areas. California, and particularly Silicon Valley, is the poster child for this kind of dysfunction. In 2018 alone, San Francisco added 6,500 residents while only building 2,200 new homes—a shocking, though not unique, shortfall.
The mismatch between new units needed to accommodate a growing population and new units actually built has resulted in a substantial housing shortage in some of the country’s most desirable areas. Current residents often use local zoning regulations to either stop new developments or add so many requirements and restrictions that new building makes little financial sense. While this might help to keep current property values high, it means that for many, moving to a better career is simply out of reach. Reforming these laws to allow the supply of housing to meet the demand will be an important piece of expanding economic opportunity for everyone.
Finally, we can’t forget about all the parents doing their best to see their kids succeed in life. And no, that doesn’t mean constantly scheduling music lessons between college prep courses in an attempt to fill every minute of a child’s time. Childhood development experts have cautioned against the growing trend of “helicopter parenting” and have emphasized the importance of unsupervised free play among children while granting increasing levels of independence to prepare them for adulthood. In fact, the “soft skills” that kids develop when engaging in unsupervised play or accomplishing something on their own are actually essential to their future success.
Unfortunately, too many parents have found themselves being questioned by authorities whenever they allow their children some much needed independence. Whether it was allowing a teenage boy to chop wood in a suburb of Chicago or just letting a seven-year-old and a three-year-old walk slightly ahead of their line of sight, parents are routinely confronted about giving children too much independence. Fortunately, some states lawmakers are beginning to recognize this problem. In 2018, Utah lawmakers passed a “Free-Range Parenting” law that clarified the laws governing “neglect” so that parents could allow their children a bit more independence without fear of prosecution. If we want to ensure kids learn the skills necessary to succeed as independent adults, let’s hope many more states follow suit.