Maine is currently the oldest state in the nation and is experiencing a labor shortage. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 5-year estimate, Maine’s median age is over 44 years of age. A 2018 report from the Maine State Economist estimates Maine’s working population (20-64) will decrease by six percent by 2026. The report stated, “for Maine to continue seeing economic growth, population growth and in-migration of workers must accelerate.”
Of course, accomplishing this goal will be the most challenging part of putting Maine on a path to economic growth and prosperity. However, there are viable solutions that will help attract workers to Maine. One of the solutions is a policy called universal recognition, also known as universal license reciprocity.
Universal recognition allows workers who currently have an occupational license in one state to practice in another state without having to jump through licensing hoops all over again. If a worker has held a license for at least one year and is in good standing with their licensing board, they could move to Maine and continue working by simply applying for the license and paying the licensing fee; no longer would they have to endure what independent dental hygienist Kimberly Fichthorn went through when she moved to Maine in April 2017.
Currently, almost one-third of workers in the United States require a license to work and earn a living. It is imperative our state makes it easier for individuals who work in licensed professions to come and live in Maine if we want to fill vacant positions and grow our economy. Other states have recognized this and started implementing universal recognition laws.
In April 2019, Arizona Republican Governor Doug Ducey signed into law a bill that allows people with out-of-state licensees to become licensed in Arizona without having to clear licensing hurdles all over again. Not long after, Pennsylvania became the second state to adopt universal recognition. Maine needs to be the next state to adopt this policy.
Arizona’s universal recognition law became effective on September 1, 2019. Within just a few days, more than 40 applications had been submitted to the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners. Other Arizona licensing offices saw similar in-flows of applications. Denise Romero, a cosmetologist in Arizona, had this to say about the new law, “Now with an existing license, it’s way easier. You apply, pay your fee and you can obtain the same license in the state of Arizona.”
According to research conducted by the Institute of Public Policy at the University of Missouri, people who hold a license are less likely to move across state lines than those who do not have a license. In addition, low-income individuals and women are disproportionately affected by states’ lack of reciprocity. This occurs because people with lower incomes have less disposable funds to pursue additional and oftentimes expensive licensing requirements, and women are more likely to hold a license or certification than employed men.
Thankfully, this is an issue that transcends party lines. Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Tom Wolf said this about the transformative universal recognition law he signed:
“This new law will reduce barriers for new Pennsylvanians to work here and shows this is a land of opportunity…portability is especially helpful for members of the military and their spouses who frequently move between states in service of the country and often have difficulty quickly getting a license to work in their profession…it’s another important step to improve the occupational licensing process while making the commonwealth a more attractive place for skilled workers and businesses.”
Clearly, universal recognition is something on which both sides of the aisle could work together. There is one bill that has been submitted to be considered in the Second Session, LR 2864, sponsored by Rep. John Andrews, which would apply reforms similar to both Arizona and Pennsylvania to the Pine Tree State.
There is no question that passing this measure would improve our economy and make it easier for workers to start a new life here in Maine.