Great Leap Forward

Vacations American Style: Zero. Zip. Nada.

A reader challenged my assertion that “being a Puritanical/Calvinist sort, Americans really never embraced the idea of vacations, anyway, and so unlike every other civilized society on earth, there is no considered right to a vacation and most Americans either don’t get them or don’t want them.” He proclaimed that to be “A facile assertion without a source. I wonder if this is true? Everyone that I know and everyone who works for me or for anyone I know gets a paid vacation. Of course that doesn’t disprove Dr. Wray’s assertion. I’d be interested to know the actual numbers.” Ask and yee shall receive. I presume this guy only runs around with the well-heeled who get vacations. Take a look at this excellent CEPR report, and with luck the graphic will appear below.

Next week I hope to do a Part 2 on BIG as my piece last week generated a lot of comments. Actually, the one last week is the Part 2–I need to back up and do a Part 1 since it became obvious that a lot of readers do not know what BIG is.

No-Vacation Nation Revisited; May 2013, by Rebecca Ray, Milla Sanes, and John Schmitt

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. Five countries even mandate that employers pay vacationing workers a small premium above their standard pay in order to help with vacation-related expenses. Most other rich countries have 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.

27 Responses to “Vacations American Style: Zero. Zip. Nada.”

SBGJuly 7th, 2013 at 5:03 pm

This is idiocy. Suggesting that no one gets paid holidays or vacation because it is not a legal requirement ignores reality. It also ignores altrrnate working arrangements and loer government employment in the US. Another international report attempting to demean the US using verbal jujitsu doesn't reflect reality ( see many of the distorted international health reports)

martinJuly 7th, 2013 at 5:54 pm

The Swiss voted AGAINST increasing paid and even unpaid vacation rights. They did not wish to follow the 'French Road'. The Swiss value work as part of life's satisfaction. The French culture despises work aés exploitation and bosses and business as anti-human. They venerate vacation as escape. I believe we all need vacations. I do not believe that loading costs onto employers to disguise the cost of labour and avoid the state's having to tax and borrow hidden in full view is anything other than statism. Paying 13th and 14th months as mandatory in order to give the worker the money to spend on his vacation is infantilisation and further disguise. This is the cost of his labour and if this is his salary why can he not be paid this sum in the 10 salaried months? Is he too irresponsible to save enough for his vacation? Hiding labour costs by mandating employers does not reduce the costs. It avoids placing political responsibility on the state. The US would at least do better and more honestly if it instituted a mutualist universal health system than the present distortionary system. An economy is there to produce needed and desired goods and services. Government is there to argue for and deploy desired social infrastructure within the limits of available resources democratically debated and disbursed from taxation. State involvement in vacations is vote buying.

EricJuly 7th, 2013 at 9:19 pm

Yep and even if you have vacation you do not take them!
Hey! Americans! Imagine taking 3 or 4 weeks away from work instead of one day here and there. I mean really away! no cheating! no email checking, no text, no phone calls etc. related to work. Certainly no reply to anything related to work. You completely tune off and your co-workers must do without you. That is what vacation is all about.

L. Randall Wray L. Randall WrayJuly 7th, 2013 at 9:56 pm

sbg: read more carefully. I said there is no considered right in America to vacations. And exactly how many days of vacations do Americans have a legal right to? Exactly zero. Compare to other OECD nations to look at the idiocy. This is not some foreign conspiracy to denigrate the USA. It is the truth.

L. Randall Wray L. Randall WrayJuly 7th, 2013 at 9:59 pm

Martin, don’t go all anti-French on us. The Swiss are practically French or at least French-like. Look at the chart. They’ve got 20 vacation days a year. Exactly 20 more than Americans. Now just how hard working are those lazy Swiss?

L. Randall Wray L. Randall WrayJuly 7th, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Eric, right. And all those europeans actually leave their country, too, to explore others. Few Americans do–vacations are too short and they don’t own passports.

martinJuly 8th, 2013 at 11:21 am

I am not going anti-French on you. The Swiss do have mandatory paid vacation. The French have many more which are not shown in your figures, not to mention the disastrous 35hrs born of the lump of labour theory. Switzerland does not have the totallyadministering state(Adorno) and puts the onus on personal responsibility which French statism muffles and eliminates. You did not note the comment on the Swiss referendum. Nor did you comment on the work ethic differences which are shatteringly different. I live in and love France but its ultra-statism is destroying the capital both financial and social of generations. The nation is overtaxed, underworked, there is a flight of young French of intelligence and energy and a disillusion with the system. If you come to Paris ever, I will give you a tour d'horizn and open your eyes.

George N. WellsJuly 8th, 2013 at 1:43 pm

I think this is more psychology/sociology than economics. The concept of leisure, particularly in the middle-income ranks, is new to human history. From my experience with European culture, self-fulfillment is generally a higher goal than the accumulation of wealth that goes far beyond your needs. My experience with Japanese culture tells me that the hard working Japanese worker is more fixed on being identified with the work group than with non-work activities/associations.

Americans seem to value the accumulation of wealth and property over personal development and therefore, things like vacations are considered less valuable. Hence we Americans don't demand vacations and often find ways to work away from the office while officially using our vacation days.

Success is measured differently by individuals and societies and the sub-groups of those societies. One size does not fit all societies or psychologies.

L. Randall Wray L. Randall WrayJuly 8th, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Martin, been there done that. I was a visiting prof at University of Paris South. Lectured elsewhere in France. Also in Switzerland. Switzerland is beautiful, but I’d rather live in France. In spite of all the “statism” and laziness you observe in France, it is an exceedingly wealthy nation with a great living standard that is falling only because it joined the Euro. You doth protesteth too mucheth.

L. Randall Wray L. Randall WrayJuly 8th, 2013 at 3:21 pm

George, agreed with most of what you say but you are dead wrong about leisure being a recent invention. Look at the artifacts of all known human societies. All of them have vast arrays of culture that have little to do with direct provisioning. Tribal societies typically worked a dozen hours a week or so. They lived a life of abundance. The main problem humans always had before civilization was what the heck would they do with all the darned free time.

martinJuly 8th, 2013 at 4:19 pm

The foundation of the euro was a huge error, but the political economy of France prior to that was also a disaster, inflating and devaluing progressively. I had a friend, now deceased, reputed to be one of De Gaulle's three friends. He was a minister on several occasions, a close friend and associate of Jacqes Rueff in the the creation of the new franc. He was mortified that the politicians ran the economy in the way they did. France thought the euro would stop the deficit vote buying. A euro could well have served Europeif it had been based on the old ecu as a common currency and europeans had been legally able to use, be paid in and hold their bank accounts in their national currencies of ecus. This would have cut the politicians off from their rotten economic practices since, as I pleaded at the time of the pre-euro debate,Mr. Demitrios for example would quickly turn down inflating drachmas and demand ecus. This process would have driven reform throughout Europe over 15 or twenty years. Now they are in an impasse, they have no room for manoevre and we will see the outcome. You are far too sanguine on the state of France. France is not the land of beauty and fine tables that you viewed from your perch. I know a different France and its wealth, both financial and social is crumbling fast.

L. Randall Wray L. Randall WrayJuly 9th, 2013 at 1:33 am

Martin, you might benefit from reading more on the euro from the mmt perspective.

odikhmantievichJuly 9th, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Good grief! The reality is that a full fifth of employed Americans receive no vacation time whatsoever, according to Expedia's Vacation Deprivation 2012 Survey. Get a grip.

Robert PresserJuly 9th, 2013 at 7:51 pm

I saw Greenspan at the Montreal Economic Conference last year as he was interviewed on the Euro Crisis, and he made one excellent comment: "When the southern European nations joined the Euro, everyone expected them to start behaving like Germans. Unsurprisingly, they continued to behave like themselves."

France is not too far behind the southerners, by the way. Part of the problem is that the state permeates the private sector. Back in my days as a management consultant, I was looking at the largest manufacturing firms in France and it was hard to find one without some significant government investment in one form or another. France will not improve its competitiveness if the state is prepared to furnish capital to shore up firms producing mediocre results.

AllanJuly 10th, 2013 at 4:57 am

What you state about tribal societies (presumably hunter- gatherers) is probably true about a proportion of them i.e. those that lived in the relatively more fertile and hospitable regions (Africa/Asia) of the earth. Studies show that those elsewhere could barely find enough to eat to stay alive.
Also, this refers to a period many thousands of years ago. In the interim, in the period of settled agriculture, there was little by way of vacations, forget about paid vacations. Heck, if James Herriot is right, there were no vacations for farmers in the UK even 60 years ago!

L. Randall Wray L. Randall WrayJuly 10th, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Robert: and yet until they joined the euro, france and the club med were all doing just fine, managed to pull themselves out of wwii and built very rich societies in spite of big states and uncompetitive workforces. Seems to indicate that the latter is not the problem?

Sarel van der WaltJuly 10th, 2013 at 1:53 pm

What, and actually have less need for psychologists and psychiatrists because the psychological health will be so much better? Destroy a big part of their oversize and overinflated health sector? you must be kidding…

SteveJuly 10th, 2013 at 7:28 pm


Are there any numbers that show a percentage of Americans (US) that have passports? Can we compare that to other countries that might have similar information?

Stephen Williams

RichardJuly 10th, 2013 at 7:58 pm

It looks like the Land of Extasia somehow cannot deliver
much, when in the same time, the right to paid vacations is
so easily granted by the (civilized) others.

Extremely exceptional…

L. Randall Wray L. Randall WrayJuly 10th, 2013 at 8:47 pm

Last I saw it was around 10% of Americans altho that might have gone up since security tightened makes it highly desirable to have one to go to canada (and americans in the border area do cross that border frequently). Try google! As I recall, even our last president didn’t have one–the scion of a rich family, Harvard and Yale.

MichaelJuly 12th, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Most of German workers get 30days vacation (of course paid). And public holidays never get subtracted from the monthly payments. Is this really the case in the US or other countries? The monthly pay is reduced if there are holidays in the respective month? So beware — most statements about Germany, France, "european periphery" and their people are very often wrong. Often they are lies made out of prejudices or political "believes". That said, income in the US is for many occupancies much higher in the US and taxes are lower than in Europe. It is very hard to compare different countries on a single isolated number. These numbers have relations and therefore simple economic models are wrong and "childs play" they have nothing to do with reality. Today some big US banks reported ~6 Billon$ quartely profits, if this is not a sign of a market failure what is? But maybe they provide paid vacations for their workers already, i don't know. Then their customers might not get ones, they must work for the outsized banking fees instead.

PZJuly 12th, 2013 at 11:33 pm

Farming… sow the seeds at spring, watch the crops grow over summer, harvest at autumn, make some bread, wait over winter, rinse and repeat. Apart from seasonal work mostly waiting at home. And this is called working?

PZJuly 12th, 2013 at 11:57 pm

We all have different values what work-life balance should be. Problem is that of all the people that participate in work life only a small fraction is in the decision making position. Others have to accept what the decision makers decide, if they want to work.

So working times reflect unerlying values of the decision making people, not what workforce would want, in average. I saw a survey that here where I live over half of the workers would support more leisure even at the expense of current income levels. Even more would support using productivity gains to increase free time. But these desires will never get fullfilled because those making decisions are not interested.

There is a systematic bias that decision makers tend to be work-life oriented. If you are corporate manager, your work is likely to be fullwilling, interesting, maybe fun to do and it pays well. Corporate managers have lots of power to decise over working times but their values are skewed towards long working hours, compared to average work-life participant.

Tejas552July 17th, 2013 at 6:16 am

The US is a free country. In a free country people can choose the mix of spare time and work time. If US workers want more paid leave they can express their preferences through the political process. If the US is a free country and if workers don't have paid vacations that can only mean that this reflects their preferences. This is how it works in Europe. And indeed, given a real choice, people do not necessarily choose unreasonably long vacations as the Swiss have demonstrated.

Tejas552July 17th, 2013 at 7:50 am

Until the joined the EUR these countries had flexible national exchange rates, which they devalued at more or less regular intervals. In the short run this gave them breathing space, in the long run it undermined their non-price competitiveness and eroded their industrial bases. Behind this were and still are corporatist-statist structures that hamper genuine entrepreneurial activity, which after all is the only source of genuine wealth. Thus, both countries joined the EUR with broken growth models, hoping somehow that the EUR will solve or mask their problems. A hope that is of course in vain.

L. Randall Wray L. Randall WrayJuly 22nd, 2013 at 12:50 am

Tejas: I presume you do not live in America. You seem to completely misunderstand. What do you mean by “free country”? How can one choose the mix of spare time and work if one cannot get a job? And in America these decisions are NOT part of the political process. Note we DO NOT have a Labor Party. If you understood anything about US Labor history you would know that worker benefits and rights are fought mostly outside the ballot box, with striking unionized workers on one side, and guns, tanks and bombs on the other. With the decline of union power, advantages have virtually all shifted to the employers’ side. Neither political party has any interest at all in trying to expand benefits for workers–indeed, both parties are trying to take them back as fast as possible.

Tejas552July 25th, 2013 at 6:26 am

True, I don't live in the US and I only "asumed" that the US is a free country for the sake of argument. If workers (i.e. the vast majority of the population) has – as you claim – no way of expressing their preferences through the political process than I would have to agree with your suggestion that the US is indeed not a free country – or at least not as free as it proclaims to be.