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In the U.S, it's all work and no paid play

Special to The Times

The United States is the "no-vacation nation," the only advanced economy in the world that doesn't guarantee its workers any paid vacation time, says a recent report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.

In fact, 28 million Americans are no-vacation workers, receiving no paid time off, vacation or holidays. On the other hand, managers and professionals often get a good deal of vacation, says John Schmitt, a senior economist with the center and one of the authors of the report.

Then there's a large group in the middle that gets some time off, but not much — and they can't even count on that time being all fun and games. It's the time they use to take care of business.

"For a lot of Americans who are in jobs without a lot of flexibility or discretion, vacation time serves a lot of purposes other than making summer trips to Disney World or Italy," Schmitt says. "They use their vacation time to stay home for the cable guy, or to attend a graduation or to take care of their kid who's come down with the chicken pox."

On average, full-time American workers receive 19 annual paid days off, according to the report — 12 vacation days and seven holidays — compared with 31 guaranteed days in France.

In May, Take Back Your Time — a 10,000-member organization that thinks work is out of balance with the rest of life in America — began a campaign calling for national legislation to guarantee every worker in the United States three weeks of paid vacation.

"Americans are the workaholics of the world," says John de Graaf, Take Back Your Time's national coordinator. "Having three weeks off wouldn't make people lazy. It would prevent burnout, make them better workers when they're working and give them a chance to pay attention to other aspects of their life."

Though Americans' vacation time is relatively skimpy, they don't always use it all up. Somewhere between one-third and one-half of employed adults don't take as much vacation as they have coming to them — 35%, according to the 2007 Vacation Deprivation survey (analyzing vacation habits in the U.S. and four other countries); 56% according to a survey conducted this spring for Hudson, a division of the Hudson Highland Group, which specializes in professional recruitment.

Here is a by-the-numbers snapshot of the vacation scene in the U.S. and around the world gleaned from these surveys:



•  20: the minimum number of annual paid vacation days guaranteed to workers anywhere in Europe.

•  30: the largest number of annual paid vacation days any country guarantees its workers. (France)

•  13: the largest number of annual paid holidays, over and above paid vacation days, that any country guarantees its workers. (Austria, Italy and Portugal)


United States

•  25%: the percentage of private-sector workers who receive no paid vacation or holidays.

•  69% versus 88%: the percentage of low-wage workers (less than $15 per hour) who receive paid vacation time versus the percentage of higher-wage workers who do.

•  13%: the percentage of workers who receive more than five weeks of vacation per year.

•  25% / 33%: the percentage of workers/managers whose boss expects them to be on-call while on vacation.

•  19%: the percentage of workers who have sometimes canceled or postponed vacation plans because of work.

•  58% / 21%: the percentage of workers who feel more relaxed/stressed when they come back than they did before they left.

•  39% / 30%: the percentage of men/women who feel guilty about taking time off from work.

Sources: Center for Economic and Policy Research report,, Hudson survey.



Paid time off

Legally guaranteed annual time off for workers in 21 rich countries: Minimum Vacation Paid Holidays Australia 20 work days 7 days Austria 22 13 Belgium 20 10 Canada 10 8 Denmark 20 9 Finland 25 9 France 30 1 Germany 24 10 Greece 20 6 Ireland 20 9 Italy 20 13 Japan 10 0 Netherlands 20 0 New Zealand 20 7 Norway 25 2 Portugal 22 13 Spain 22 12 Sweden 20 0 Switzerland 20 0 United Kingdom 20 0 United States 0 0Average time off for U.S. workers Paid Vacation Paid Holidays All 9 days 6 days Full-Time 12 7 Part-Time 3 2 Earning less than $15/hr 7 5 More than $15/hr 13 8 Small company * 8 5 Large company 12 8*(fewer than 100 workers)

Extra perks: Some workers get a bonus too: Austrians get a tax break on the salary they draw while on vacation; Swedes get 108% of their normal salary on vacation; and New Zealanders get 112%.

Age matters: Germany, Austria and Switzerland offer up to a week extra paid vacation for young workers, while Norway gives workers 60 and older an extra week off.

Source: "No-Vacation Nation," a May 16 report by Rebecca Ray and John Schmitt of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Graphic reporting by Karen Ravn

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