Here’s a modest proposal I offer free of charge to Obama or Romney: Every American should get a mandatory minimum of three weeks paid vacation a year.
Most Americans only get two weeks off right now. But many don’t even take the full two weeks out of fear of losing their jobs.
One in four gets no paid vacation at all, not even holidays. Overall, Americans have less vacation time than workers in any other advanced economy.
About 40 percent of U.S. workers, or more than 55 million Americans, don’t get paid when they take vacation or sick days, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Bureau’s latest report shows the U.S. lagging on such policies. We’re the only advanced economy without a national leave policy guaranteeing a break for employees.
Employees in some industries do far better than in others. According to the bureau’s American Time Use Survey, the 8.1 million Americans working in the financial industry are twice as likely to have paid time off as the nation’s 8.7 million construction workers. The lowest rates are in the leisure and hospitality sectors, where fewer than one in four workers receive paid vacation or sick days.
This is absurd. A mandatory three weeks off would be good for everyone — including employers.
Studies show workers who take time off are more productive after their batteries are recharged. They have higher morale, and are less likely to mentally check out on the job.
This means more output per worker — enough to compensate employers for the cost of hiring additional workers to cover for everyone’s three weeks’ vacation time.
It’s also a win for the economy, because these additional workers would bring down the level of unemployment and put more money into more people’s pockets. This extra purchasing power would boost the economy overall.
Requiring paid leave hasn’t hurt other economies. Germany has one of the strongest economies in Europe, and it mandates a minimum of four weeks paid vacation per year.
More and longer vacations would also improve our health. A study by Wisconsin’s Marshfield Clinic shows women who take regular vacations experience less tension and depression year round. Studies also show that men who take regular vacations have less likelihood of heart disease and fewer heart attacks.
Better health is not just good for us as individuals. It also translates into more productive workers, fewer sick days, less absenteeism. And lower health care costs.
In other words, a three-week minimum vacation is a win-win-win — good for workers, good for employers, and good for the economy.
And I guarantee it would also be a winner among voters. Obama, Romney — either of you listening?