Reich: A Little Perspective

Does it seem like all you do is work, work, work? Well, You do!

The Myth of Summer Vacation

I'm about to take a few weeks off. If you are, too, we're in the minority. A Conference Board poll last April found fewer than 40 percent of Americans planning a summer vacation.

Of course, for most Americans, there's not much summer vacation to begin with. The average American employee gets a total of 14 days off each year. If you want to take a few of them around Thanksgiving, between Christmas and New Years, and maybe when the kids are home on spring break, summer vacation is already practically gone.

Those 14 days, by the way, are the fewest vacation days in any advanced economy. The average French worker gets 37 days off annually; In Britain, it's 26.

And even when we take those 14 days, we don't always get paid for them. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us 1 out of 4 workers gets no paid vacation days at all. Every other advanced nation -- and even lots of developing nations -- mandate them.

On top of all this comes the current economic squeeze. That figure of 40 percent of Americans planning a summer vacation is the lowest in 30 years.

Not incidentally, consumer confidence in the economy is the lowest it's been in 28 years. In other words, there's a correlation between the small number of Americans taking a vacation this summer and this very bad economy.

It's not that we're too busy to vacation. Just the opposite: There's not enough work go around. Which means we don't dare leave work, lest we lose us a customer who might just happen to want us when we're gone. Or we could even lose the job, because employees on vacation might seem expendable to an employer looking for a way to cut costs.

Despite all this, you need a summer vacation. I do, too. I'll return in August.

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