West Virginia in Bottom Half of States for Freedom to Work

West Virginia Has Some of the Worst Barriers to Work in the United States

A new report from the Archbridge Institute has revealed just how difficult big government makes working in the Mountain State. In terms of occupational licensing burden, West Virginia clocks in at 13th in the country, sharing burden scores with deep blue states like Massachusetts and California. Arkansas, Texas, and Alabama led the way as the hardest states to work in while Kansas, Missouri, and Wyoming had the fewest barriers to working.

Archbridge Institute Report Reveals Lack of Freedom to Work

Key findings in the 2023 State Occupational Licensing Index include a top two finish for West Virginia in its South Atlantic region. 1st place in this ranking is the worst. That title belongs to North Carolina. West Virginia’s barriers to entry and licensing requirements are above regional and national average, finishing 2nd worst in barriers and 3rd worst in licensing. The Mountain State’s most uniquely licensed occupation is “Forester In-Training,” an occupation that is only licensed in three states. 

Other Research Shows Similar Findings Regarding Licenses and Barriers to Work in West Virginia

Similar work from the Institute for Justice (IJ) found that one out of every five workers in the Mountain State must now get an occupational license before being allowed to do their jobs. For low and middle-income jobs in West Virginia, 214 days of education and experience are the average requirement.

IJ uses cosmetology as an example. Popular in West Virginia, cosmetology requires 1,800 hours of classes that cost $14,000 to complete. Meanwhile, cosmetologists in the field only make $21,000 per year.

There is good news, however. The Institute for Justice found that West Virginia’s sunrise review provisions are “consistently rigorous.” Sunrise reviews require legislators to thoroughly investigate the necessity, costs, and benefits of new licenses before their creation. West Virginia’s sunrise reviews only approved new licensing around 30% of the time.


West Virginia Needs to Make More Progress

Additionally, West Virginia has slowly begun to make progress on licensing reform. This includes reforming the treacherous waters of licenses for those with criminal histories. 

The GOP controlled legislature and governorship have a prime opportunity to lead the country in occupational licensing reform. There is no reason for West Virginia to remain 13th worst in the country nor 2nd worst in our region. While policymakers have made progress, they still have far to go toward improving West Virginia’s Freedom to Work.

It is time to start chipping away at the walls that stand between Mountaineers and gainful employment. The way forward is simple: no new licensing boards, increased independent oversight on those that exist, and removal of licensing requirements for occupations that currently require them.



Jacob McCoy is a Contributor to the Cardinal’s Nest Blog.