Congress has just eight days on the job between now and the start of the next session on January 7, with the House coming back on Monday and adjourning for the year by December 13 and the Senate returning on December 9 only to most likely adjourn for the year on December 20. In total, the House will have had 239 days off this year with even more scheduled for next year.
Certainly members of Congress have work to do when they’re not required to be in D.C., including meetings with constituents, running their other offices, talking to local community leaders, and doing media interviews. Some may also use those days off on other jobs for supplemental income, but most make side money by owning businesses or from investments.
The picture is very different for the rest of Americans, however. The country doesn’t guarantee its citizens any paid vacation or holiday time off, unlike 20 of its developed peers. All European Union countries guarantee workers at least 20 paid days of vacation a year, with France going so far as to lock in 30, the United Kingdom mandating 28, and Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden guaranteeing 25. Thirteen also mandate paid holidays off. Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, and Sweden go even further, requiring employers to give workers an extra bonus to cover vacation expenses.
Of course, many American employers still give their workers paid vacation time and holidays off. But that holds true for fewer and fewer workers. Today, 77 percent of workers have access to paid vacation days, compared to 80 percent 20 years ago. The biggest drops have come for those who work part-time — a position more and more find themselves in — or for employers with fewer than 100 workers. And while those who get paid vacation get more days than back then, they get fewer paid holidays, which offsets the increase.
This problem was in stark relief on Thursday as millions of workers had to show up at work for retailers who were open on Thanksgiving Day. While many were compensated with extra pay and perks and the companies claimed their workers were excited to come in that day, some employees claimed that their requests to take the day off were denied.
The U.S. also lags developed peers in other kinds of paid time off. It is the only one out of the top 15 most competitive that doesn’t guarantee paid sick days, which leaves 40 percent of private sector workers out of paid leave. Those who do get paid sick days also get fewer of them than two decades ago. The country is even more lonely when it comes to maternity leave to take care of a new child, joining just three countries out of 178 in failing to guarantee paid time off. Fathers similarly get no guarantee of paid time off when a new child arrives.