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Not Everyone Gets a Five-Week Vacation

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It’s the time of year when it seems like everyone is getting in that last bit of vacation time while summer is still here. Parents are trying to get away with the kids before school starts. Congress is on recess. Even my own vacation partially explains the sparse blog postings as of late. But the champion when it comes to vacation time has to be our President, who is spending a whopping five weeks away from the White House at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. While the President may have been reelected in part due to his ability to relate to ordinary Americans, his lengthy vacation is one thing to which ordinary Americans, by and large, cannot relate.

As one commentator puts it: “August is the siesta month, when we shut down our brains, head on holiday, and spend money while doing nothing to earn it. We go back and forth between a deep desire to squeeze in every last moment of idle repose, and a vague sense of dread about what lies in store.” (See Slate’s The Mendoza Line.) No one questions the value of a vacation from work when it comes to recharging batteries, preventing burnout, increasing productivity, helping health, promoting familial bonds and increasing positive moods. (See Sun News article.) Sounds like something everyone could benefit from, right?

And few question that the rigors of the presidency demand some down time. As presidential workloads increase, experts say, so does the need for balance. “You need to take time to keep your own physical, mental, spiritual act together, or you are not going to be a good president or leader of anything,” says Jim Bird, CEO of WorkLifeBalance.com. (See Christian Science Monitor article.)

However, in the U.S., there is no statutory requirement that workers receive any paid vacation time. This is in contrast to most industrialized nations. Five nations require a minimum of twenty-five paid days (five workweeks) each year: Austria, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, Sweden. Another 13 countries guarantee at least 20 days yearly, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. (See EPI Economic Snapshot.) Even countries hardly known for their labor standards, such as El Salvador, Indonesia and Mongolia, have all established a minimum of 10 to 15 days paid leave a year. (See Capital Times article.)

With the absence of any legally required vacation, it takes American workers years on the job to work their way up to longer vacation periods. U.S. workers employed for a year or more receive, on average, 8.9 days of vacation. After 10 years of employment workers receive just over three weeks of vacation. Vacation leave approaches four weeks after 25 years of service. Put this way, it takes an American worker 25 years to earn the same amount of vacation that is guaranteed by law in most European countries. (See EPI Economic Snapshot.)

However, when you’re the President, you don’t need any kind of legal protection: now that he has been re-elected, he can’t be fired from his job for taking too much time off. In fact, the President recently earned the distinction of being the “most-rested” president in history (a title bestowed by Britain’s Financial Times), when he surpassed Ronald Reagan’s previous record of 335 days for presidential time spent at a vacation home. If President Bush keeps up his current pace for the rest of his presidency, he will have spent more than one year away from the White House during his tenure as president. (See Capital Times article.)

As the President has said about his current activities (including biking with Lance Armstrong and fishing with Idaho’s governor), “I’m just kind of hanging loose.” (See The Rebel Yell article.) Whatever your views about the war in Iraq and Cindy Sheehan’s protest dogging the President as he vacations at his home in Crawford, Texas, it seems we can all agree that Americans need more opportunities to “hang loose,” whether it be for five weeks, or even the minimum two weeks needed to really get away from it all.

While we don’t expect a national campaign to hang loose will be at the top of Congress’ (also MIA during the month of August) or the President’s agenda any time soon, perhaps more employers can follow the lead of the president that many of them support, and voluntarily provide more vacation for their workers who so desperately need it.


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