Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I) held his first rally after launching his bid for the Democratic presidential candidacy on Wednesday evening. And during his speech, he made a call for “guaranteed vacation time for every worker in this country.”
That’s a first for someone vying for the American presidency, according to Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “I feel pretty comfortable saying that it is a first,” he said. “I’ve been pushing on this one for years and I’m pretty sure I would know if another candidate had pushed this idea.”
The United States does not in fact have any requirement that employers offer their workers vacation time. That makes it unique among developed countries. Twenty others guarantee that citizens will get paid vacation, ranging from 30 days in France to 10 in Japan and Canada. Five even go so far as to make sure workers get a bit of extra pay to cover vacation expenses. Thirteen countries also tack on a required number of paid holidays; the U.S., again, does not require employers to offer any paid holiday time.
Some American employers offer paid vacation and holiday time even though they’re not required to. But the number that do so has fallen over the past two decades. About a quarter of Americans aren’t offered paid holidays, while a quarter aren’t offered paid vacation time. Those who do get vacation, meanwhile, got five fewer days of it last year as compared to the year before.
A few American lawmakers have noticed these trends and proposed policies that would give workers a right to some paid time off. Last year, Washington state lawmakers considered a bill to guarantee paid vacation for all residents, which would have made it the first state to have such a policy, although it didn’t get passed. Legislation was also introduced in Congress that would require employers to offer at least a week of paid vacation, but it didn’t go anywhere.
Baker noted that guaranteed vacation could help the American economy. “It is not just a good idea for people to have more leisure,” he said. “In a context where the economy is below its full employment level … shorter work years will spread the work around and reduce unemployment.” If workers start putting in fewer hours, that creates more need for employers to hire additional people to fill in the gaps, thus giving more people a chance at a job. “If we worked fewer hours on average, more people would be working,” he said.
The economy would also benefit from increased spending if Americans weren’t stuck at work all the time. They only take about half of the vacation days they get at work on average, leaving about three days unused every year. If everyone took all of their days and some of them decided to travel, about $67 billion in tourism spending would be pumped into the economy.
There is also evidence that taking a break makes people more effective when they return. Studies have found that increasing vacation time results in higher performance reviews when employees come back to work, and in Denmark, vacation was found to increase creativity and cognitive flexibility.