Lost cause?

We are now solidly between Memorial Day and Labor Day, time to pause and reflect on the sad state of the American Vacation.

Although the travel industry is expecting a good summer season, the status of "the vacation" in this country isn't improving, as evidenced by recent research from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), a Washington think-tank.

In a paper titled "No-Vacation Nation Revisited," Rebecca Ray, Milla Sanes and John Schmitt write that the U.S. is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee paid vacation or paid holidays to its workers.

In 20 of the 21 richest countries in the world, workers are guaranteed a minimum amount of paid vacation by law, ranging from 10 days in Canada and Japan to a high of 30 in France. (The E.U. has a 20-day minimum.)

Further, in 13 of those countries, workers are guaranteed a certain number of paid holidays (as many as 13 in Austria and Portugal). But the U.S. is not one of those.

In the U.S., employers offer vacations and holidays at their own discretion, based on what the market will bear, as well as on local custom, prevailing industry standards, union contracts and other factors.

On average, U.S. employers offer 10 days of paid vacation and six paid holidays, which puts us at the low end of the 21 countries studied.

But that's an average. It gets worse for those who work part time or who work at low-wage jobs or in small businesses. What they receive is "far less generous than what is available to their higher-wage, full-time counterparts with larger employers," the report said.

On top of that, 23% of U.S. workers get no paid vacation at all, and no paid holidays.

The report updates a CEPR analysis done in 2007. Since then, co-author Schmitt said, "absolutely nothing has changed. U.S. law and U.S. employer behavior still lag far behind the rest of the rich countries in the world."

The report stopped short of putting a number on the economic pros and cons or of advocating a particular solution, which is probably just as well, because this issue doesn't seem to be on anybody's radar.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), author of the Paid Vacation Act (H.R. 2096), appears to be one of the few people in government to have said much about the issue. His legislation would require employers with more than 100 workers to offer a minimum of two weeks paid vacation. Smaller employers would be required to offer one week, and there would be provisions for part-time workers.

Compared with the E.U., it's not much, but it's a start, except that it's a nonstarter. We can't imagine Congress, as currently composed, giving any attention to this matter.

About a year ago, there was a flurry of press coverage about a software company in Denver called FullContact that offered its workers a bonus of $7,500 if they took a vacation and stayed unplugged: no phone calls to the office, no checking email.

The CEO, Bart Lorang, explained on his blog that many corporate cultures encourage a "hero" attitude that keeps workers chained to their desks in the belief that "I'm the only one who can do this."

For Lorang, however, "That's not heroic. That's a single point of failure. It's not good for the employee or the company." He wrote that if workers know they're going away and going to be unplugged, they will delegate and share knowledge, and the company will benefit.

We would suggest he run for office, but politics would probably be his undoing.
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