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Should America work on having more vacation?

Marketplace Staff May 16, 2007

Should America work on having more vacation?

Marketplace Staff May 16, 2007

An empty beach in Hawaii (Getty Images)

KAI RYSSDAL: Count yourself fortunate if you’ve arranged your summer vacation already. Not that you’ve done the planning, but that you get the vacation time at all. A study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research released today points out an American vacation void. It says the United States is the only advanced economy that doesn’t oblige employers to offer paid vacations. Jeremy Hobson reports from Washington.

JEREMY HOBSON: In France, citizens have a legal right to 30 paid vacation days and holidays. Same goes for the workers in Finland. And they get at least 20 — mandated by the government — in all of Western Europe and Australia.

The U.S. is in a class by itself. Economist John Schmitt compared the laws in 21 advanced countries. He says the U.S. is the only one that does not guarantee workers paid vacation days or holidays.

JOHN SCHMITT: About one in four workers in the private sector, for example, have no right to paid vacation whatsoever. That’s about 28 million workers in the private sector.

For those Americans lucky enough to get vacation, they get an average of 15 days. That’s less than the minimum standard in 19 other rich countries. Schmitt says there’s no downside to leisure time.

SCHMITT: Being generous with respect to paid vacation does not have a negative impact on economic performance, and it has a big improvement in the quality of life.

Which is why Schmitt says the government should not leave it up to private companies.

But Steve Davis, an economics consultant for CRA International, disagrees. He says the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have a vacation law is a good thing.

STEVE DAVIS: I don’t think it’s proper for the government to impose a one-size-fits-all policy on employers and workers.

He says those kinds of negotiations should happen at the company level. But does all work and no play pay?

DAVIS: The United States has higher income and higher earnings than, say, countries in Western Europe, in which these policies — mandatory minimum holidays and vacations — are common.

And truth be told, those who get paid vacation often don’t use all of it.

In Washington, I’m Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

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