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Mandatory, extended vacation is good for the economy

Congress is off on vacation until Labor Day. Robert Reich wonders what would happen if we all got some extended time off.

Here's an idea I offer free of charge to any candidate running for office this fall: Propose that every American get a mandatory minimum of three weeks paid vacation a year.

Most Americans only get two weeks off right now. But many don't even take the full two weeks out of fear of losing their jobs. One in four gets no paid vacation at all, not even holidays. Overall, Americans have less vacation time than workers in any other advanced economy.

This is absurd. A mandatory three weeks off would be good for everyone -- including employers. Studies show workers who take time off are more productive after their batteries are recharged. They have higher morale, and are less likely to mentally check out on the job.

This means more output per worker -- enough to compensate employers for the cost of hiring additional workers to cover for everyone's three weeks' vacation time.

It's also a win for the economy, because these additional workers would bring down the level of unemployment and put more money into more people's pockets. This extra purchasing power would boost the economy overall.

More and longer vacations would also improve our health. A study by Wisconsin's Marshfield Clinic shows women who take regular vacations experience less tension and depression year round. Studies also show that men who take regular vacations have less likelihood of heart disease and fewer heart attacks.

Better health is not just good for us as individuals. It also translates into more productive workers, fewer sick days, less absenteeism. And lower health care costs.

In other words, a three-week minimum vacation is a win-win-win -- good for workers, good for employers, and good for the economy.

And I guarantee it would also be a winner among voters. Mitt Romney, President Obama -- you listening?

About the author

Robert Reich is chancellor's professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.

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