U.S. trails Europe on paid vacation time

Oh, to be Austrian.

On a weekend when thoughts officially turn to summer, fruity cocktails and ways to skip work, it is an apt time to remember: Not everyone is able to laze around on Memorial Day.

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Or looking forward to a vacation at all.

Or getting paid for whatever time off they do receive.

In its latest update on vacation and holiday rules among developed countries, the Center for Economic Policy and Research notes that the United States remains alone as the only rich nation without legally mandated vacations for employees, and with no requirement that official holidays come with extra pay and a compensating day off.

The closest (miserly) competitor is Japan, where workers are guaranteed at least 10 days off with pay. The Austrians may be all about northern European frugality, but their paid time off tops the heap: 22 vacation days, 13 holidays, and a month’s pay to help with vacation expenses. And if you hang around a place for six years, you can swing 49 days off with pay. If you count weekends, that’s 153 days off vs. 212 days of work in a year – or a goof-off-to-work ratio of .72.

Pretty sweet, although all of Europe fares well — from the crisis-stricken Greeks (four weeks off plus six paid holidays) to the laissez-faire French (30 days vacation and one holiday) to the hard(ly?) working Germans (20 vacation days plus 10 holidays or, dare we say it, as much as the French).

To be fair, the CEPR notes that most workers in the United States do get paid vacation — about three-quarters overall. But there is a schism: Paid vacations are nearly universal for higher-paid workers, but the think tank says that only about half of lower-paid hourly wage workers receive paid time off.

What does all this mean? Do we see in it the roots of Europe’s economic crisis? Or does it show American obsession with productivity — or perhaps with our desire to stay on top?

On that point, one wonders if the vacation rules were as liberal in Austria under the Hapsburgs; or in France when the world’s lingua franca was still French. The Brits may have lost in 1776, but at least they get four weeks off each year.

Empire may have its rewards. But the alternative doesn’t look so bad.

 
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