America: No Vacation Time For You

In the richest country in the world, there is no right to any vacation time.  Paid annual leave and paid holidays are optional for any employer.  In most other wealthy nations, there are between 20-35 vacation days per year (4-7 weeks).  To make matters worse, Americans are increasingly less likely to actually use their vacation days.

A report titled No-Vacation Nation (pdf) by Rebecca Ray and John Schmitt for the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) details the stark contrast between the United States and the 21 other wealthy nations.  In it, some startling facts were discovered, such as:

*1 in 4 private-sector workers in the US do not receive any paid vacation or paid holidays
*28 million Americans don’t get a vacation
*The average paid vacation + paid holidays provided to U.S. workers in the private sector (15) is less than the minimum required by law in nearly every other rich country
*Only 69% of low wage workers have vacation
*Only 36% of part time workers have any paid vacation

An excerpt from No Vacation Nation (2007):

The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation. European countries establish legal rights to at least 20 days of paid vacation per year, with legal requirement of 25 and even 30 or more days in some countries. Australia and New Zealand both require employers to grant at least 20 vacation days per year; Canada and Japan mandate at least 10 paid days off. The gap between paid time off in the United States and the rest of the world is even larger if we include legally mandated paid holidays, where the United States offers none, but most of the rest of the world’s rich countries offer between five and 13 paid holidays per year.

In the absence of government standards, almost one in four Americans have no paid vacation and no paid holidays. According to government survey data, the average worker in the private sector in the United States receives only about nine days of paid vacation and about six paid holidays per year: less than the minimum legal standard set in the rest of world’s rich economies excluding Japan (which guarantees only 10 paid vacation days and requires no paid holidays).

The paid vacation and paid holidays that employers do make available is distributed unequally. According to the same government survey data, lower-wage workers are less likely to have any paid vacation (69 percent) than higher-wage workers are (88 percent). The same is true for part-timers, who are far less likely to have paid vacations (36 percent) than are full-timers (90 percent). The problems of lower-wage and part-time workers are magnified if they are employed in small establishments, where only 70 percent have paid vacations, compared to 86 percent in medium and large establishments. Even when lower-wage, part-time, and small-business employees do receive paid vacations, they typically receive far fewer paid days off than higher-wage, full-time, employees in larger establishments. For example, the average lower-wage worker (less than $15 per hour) with a vacation benefit received only 10 days of paid vacation per year in 2005, compared to 14 days of paid vacation for higher-wage workers with paid vacations. If we look at all workers ? those who receive paid vacations and those who don’t ? the vacation gap between lower-wage and higher-wage workers is even larger: only 7 days for lower-wage workers, compared to 13 days for higher-wage workers.

This report reviews the most recently available data from a range of national and international sources on statutory requirements for paid vacations and paid holidays in 21 rich countries (16 European countries, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States). In addition to our finding that the United States is the only country in the group that does not require employers to provide paid vacation time, we also note that several foreign countries offer additional time off for younger and older workers, shift workers, and those engaged in community service including jury duty. Three countries even mandate that employers pay vacationing workers a small premium above their standard pay in order to help with vacation-related expenses. Almost every other rich country has also established legal rights to paid holidays over and above paid vacation days. We distinguish throughout the report between paid vacation ? or paid annual leave, terms we use interchangeably ? and paid holidays, which are organized around particular fixed dates in the calendar. Our analysis does not cover paid leave for other reasons such as sick leave, parental leave, or leave to care for sick relatives.

The study above contrasts comparable rich nations, in particular Western Europe, North America, and Commonwealth nations.  Statistics for mandatory paid vacation times in  less developed nations can be found here.

While the figures listed above demonstrate the minimum number of vacation days required, they do not represent the average number of paid vacation days offered in a particular country.  For instance, in the United States, there are no required paid vacation days, yet an average of 13 are offered.  A 2007 report by the World Tourism Organization cataloged a sampling of nations to compare and contrast figures of the average number of vacation days offered:

Italy 42 days
France 37 days
Germany 35 days
Brazil 34 days
United Kingdom 28 days
Canada 26 days
Korea 25 days
Japan 25 days
U.S. 13 days

Even Koreans who work hundreds of more hours per year than Americans average nearly twice the number of paid vacation days.  On the other side of the scale, people in The Netherlands work hundreds of hours less per year than Americans,  and averaged 45 paid days off at one time (recent data not available).

An important distinction here is that these are just the average paid vacation days offered, and they are increasingly not being taken in America.  One in six workers in the US are unable to take any vacation days for various reasons (usually due to workload), with some people going for years without taking their offered time off.

More recently a survey conducted for Expedia.com (R) found an average of 1.8 unused vacation days per employee each year in the US. They calculate this to be worth $19.3 billion a year to their employers. Yet 71% of the workers surveyed wished that their employers gave an extra week’s paid vacation each year. And 53% of respondents did not know that US employees receive considerably less annual vacation time than their counterparts in other industrialized countries.

ABC News reports that, “But even with those 13 days off, only 57 percent of Americans take them all.”  The research firm Ipsos lists the percentage of people in the following countries that used the full amount of their offered paid vacation time:

France: 89 percent
Argentina: 80 percent
Hungary: 78 percent
Britain: 77 percent
Spain: 77 percent
Saudi Arabia: 76 percent
Germany: 75 percent
Belgium: 74 percent
Turkey: 74 percent
Indonesia: 70 percent
Mexico: 67 percent
Russia: 67 percent
Italy 66 percent
Poland: 66 percent
China: 65 percent
Sweden: 63 percent
Brazil: 59 percent
India: 59 percent
Canada: 58 percent
United States: 57 percent
South Korea: 53 percent
Australia: 47 percent
South Africa: 47 percent
Japan: 33 percent

Why the discrepancy?  Kathleen E. Christensen, the founder of the Workplace, Work Force and Working Families program at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and author of the book Workplace Flexibility: Realigning 20th-Century Jobs for a 21st-Century Workforce, states “Many of these countries have strong labor unions and the workers are more protected than in the U.S.”

Ironic that the country with the largest economy and greatest wealth in the world does not require any vacation time for the workers who create the wealth with their labor.  When paid annual and holiday leave is offered, it is less than half of what most other countries receive, and of that almost half of Americans do not use all of their days.

Editors note – companion piece to this article titled Message From Corporate America: Work Longer, Harder, Faster can be found here.

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4 Responses to America: No Vacation Time For You

  1. Vote -1 Vote +1XeenMeen
    January 21, 2011 at 7:26 am

    Wow, downright scary when you think about it.

    http://www.anon-tools.edu.tc

  2. Vote -1 Vote +1Lee Burbage
    January 21, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    This is a real problem in America. But, many companies like The Motley Fool are employee first companies. This means we take care of our employees, they take care of customers, who take care of share holders. We allow as much time off as you need. Just do your job well and make your own hours. It will be a great day in America when more companies take this approach.

  3. Vote -1 Vote +1Tony
    January 22, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    There has to be an end in sight. What are you working towards? If you are working mega hours but know that it is going towards opening your own business then it is worth the price you pay. Set goals work hard and change your life. Check out my new blog on how to set goals and change your life: http://www.starttheprocess.com/blog/files/353f99e8004a0b78f21124cc51aa2641-13.html

  4. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1alien perfume
    January 23, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    A shame that we can not enjoy the fruits of our labors.