I grew up in New York. Now I live in Florida. This isn’t an unusual story. For as long as I can remember, Florida has been the top spot for relocating New Yorkers. But recent reports indicate that the lockdowns have rapidly accelerated the exodus, with people escaping the Empire State accounting for two-thirds of all recent long-distance moves, according to data from United Van Lines.
Many of those escapees are choosing to resettle in Florida — a fact I can confirm firsthand, as I watch other native New Yorkers become my new neighbors in the Sunshine State. Yet as someone who loves the Empire State, I take no pleasure in watching this phenomenon unfold. It’s especially painful, since many of New York’s injuries are self-inflicted, the product of a morass of laws and regulations seemingly designed to stifle entrepreneurship.
New Yorkers are known for their entrepreneurial spirit. It’s why immigrants continue to set out from distant shores to make their mark in the city and state they associate with the Statue of Liberty. But risk-takers and job-creators can’t prosper if New York lawmakers won’t let them. So they leave for places like Florida. The trend can’t be reversed until New York officials take stock of what precisely it is that draws New Yorkers to Florida.
The answer, in one word, is opportunity.
Consider the recent push by state lawmakers to create a “shampoo-assistant” license. Bombshell New York Post reporting revealed that the biggest proponents of the new license are, in fact, the schools that the shampoo assistants would be forced to attend at exorbitant tuition costs.
By contrast, Florida recently reformed the licensing requirements for more than 30 different occupations. Some requirements were removed entirely. Others were scaled back. All will create jobs and opportunity. And this wasn’t an exclusively GOP scheme. It was a bipartisan effort that passed the Florida Senate unanimously.
This bipartisan support isn’t unique to the Sunshine State. A national bipartisan coalition has recognized that most occupational-licensing laws have zero positive impact on health, safety or quality. Instead, they lead to higher incarceration rates, kill jobs, decrease consumer choice and hold down disadvantaged communities. Even the Obama and Trump administrations agree on this issue. But that national bipartisan encouragement has fallen on deaf ears in Albany and in New York City.
Every year, New York’s outdated licensing laws cost the state more than 108,000 jobs. For instance, New York requires opticians, who help fit frames and lenses, to get two years of education, pass two exams and pay $333 to get a license. Pennsylvania, which happens to be the third most popular state for fleeing New Yorkers, doesn’t require would-be opticians to pass licensure hoops set by any one agency or organization.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Pennsylvania opticians aren’t trained to do the job. It just means individual businesses determine what level of training each optician needs, depending on her role in the office. Many offer training at the job site. So why pay for two years of schooling in New York when you can cross the state line and start working tomorrow?
New York’s problems are only going to worsen as other states continue to make themselves more attractive. Arizona recently became the first state to broadly recognize out-of-state licenses. The state will now generally issue occupational licenses to any new residents who were licensed for at least one year in another state. Recognition isn’t a perfect substitute for deeper reforms, but it’s a first step that makes it easier for people to relocate.
All hope isn’t lost. New York still has a lot to offer, but it needs to copy the template for occupational-licensing reform that already exists in places like Florida. If it does, then fewer New Yorkers will feel the need to leave the Big Apple and the Empire State to pursue their American Dream.
Justin Pearson is the managing attorney at the Florida office of the Institute for Justice, a national nonprofit law firm that offers free legal assistance to small-business owners.