FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Vanishing American Vacation

by DON MONKERUD

In 1882, New York clamored for an appearance by the champion of laissez-faire capitalism, Herbert Spencer, who provided Charles Darwin with the phrase, “Survival of the fittest.”

Spencer agreed to meet the captains of American industry, but his appearance was a disaster. Spencer told the assembly they didn’t understand his ideas, for he disapproved of American capitalism. Americans, he claimed, are pathologically obsessed with work.

Overwork risks their mental and physical health and they need a “revised ideal of life” that includes relaxation. “Life is not for learning, nor is life for working,” said Spencer, “but learning and working are for life.”

Almost 125 years later, Americans still haven’t gotten the message. Compared to people in other developed countries, Americans don’t ask for more vacation time, don’t take all the vacation time their employers give them, and continue to work while they are on vacation.

There are a number of theories about why Americans don’t demand more vacation time: fear of leaving work that will pile up in their absence; fear that other employees will show more devotion to the job and get promoted above them; a distaste for relating to a mate and children outside of their tightly structured lives; and they’ve been convinced that economic success depends on subservience to employers who control their work lives. Consider that:

* Some 88 percent of Americans carry electronic devices while on vacation to communicate with work, and 40 percent log-on to check their work email.

* A third of all Americans don’t take their allotted vacation and 37 percent never take more than a week at a time.

Many employees have no choice because they are at the bottom of the pay scale and are forced to work to make ends meet. A third of all women and a quarter of all men receive no paid vacation. We’ve been globalized, downsized and privitized until we are little more than production units.

The U.S. remains the only industrialized country in the world that has no legally mandated annual leave. France leads the world with 30 days off a year. Employees in Britain, German, Australia, Spain and Sweden have 20 or more days off a year, and Canada and Japan have 10 days off, about the same as some American corporations allow their workers. Even the Chinese get three weeks off a year, and this is only the legally mandated vacation time. Many employees in other countries take six or more weeks off a year (the French average 39 days and the English 24).

Meanwhile, those who profit from our labor amass wealth. For the fifth consecutive year in a row-a Bush record-the average American’s income remained below what it was in 2000. Those making over $1 million a year (less than a quarter of one percent of all taxpayers) increased their income 26 percent, and 62 percent of that increase came from Bush tax cuts on investments: capital gains and dividends.

Our mythology claims the work ethic makes America great, but does it? We have the highest productivity in the world because we work more overtime-40 percent of Americans work 50 hours a week and some workweeks typically run 60 to 70 hours.

Workers in France, Ireland, Norway and Holland are more productive than American workers: Germany and Britain lag slightly behind, and all of them have more vacation time than we do.

It’s not like we don’t need vacations. One in three American workers are chronically overworked and report job stress. We are working longer hours, our jobs are more demanding, and we have more tasks to perform. Forty percent of parents with teenage children report high stress levels, and those making over $50,000 a year report the highest levels of stress.

We can’t expect to wait until retirement to have more time off, either. For the first time in history-another Bush record-four generations of Americans are now working. After decades of decline, the number of workers 55 and over has increased. Today 6.4 percent of those 75 and older work. The number of those receiving pensions decreased by half since 1980 and the age to receive full Social Security benefits increased to 67. Over 60 percent of those between 55 and 64 in California are working, an increase of 7.4 percent since 1980.

Whether it’s greed, an ingrained protestant work ethic, economic necessity or some other reason, there’s no excuse for not having mandated vacation time.

No one is ever taken advantage of without their agreement, so perhaps Americans live to work. If not, it’s time for Americans to take Herbert Spencer’s advice, demand more vacation time, relax and enjoy your life.

DON MONKERUD is an California-based writer who follows cultural, social and political issues. He can be reached at monkerud@cruzio.com.

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 24, 2017
Paul Street
Beyond Neoliberal Identity Politics
Daniel Read
Powder Keg: Manchester Terror Attack Could Lead to Yet Another Resurgence in Nationalist Hate
Robert Fisk
When Peace is a Commodity: Trump in the Middle East
Kenneth Surin
The UK’s Epochal Election
Jeff Berg
Lessons From a Modern Greek Tragedy
Steve Cooper
A Concrete Agenda for Progressives
Michael McKinley
Australia-as-Concierge: the Need for a Change of Occupation
William Hawes
Where Are Your Minds? An Open Letter to Thomas de Maiziere and the CDU
Steve Early
“Corporate Free” Candidates Move Up
Fariborz Saremi
Presidential Elections in Iran and the Outcomes
Dan Bacher
The Dark Heart of California’s Water Politics
Alessandra Bajec
Never Ending Injustice for Pinar Selek
Rob Seimetz
Death By Demigod
Jesse Jackson
Venezuela Needs Helping Hand, Not a Hammer Blow 
Binoy Kampmark
Return to Realpolitik: Trump in Saudi Arabia
Vern Loomis
The NRA: the Dragon in Our Midst
May 23, 2017
John Wight
Manchester Attacks: What Price Hypocrisy?
Patrick Cockburn
A Gathering of Autocrats: Trump Puts US on Sunni Muslim Side of Bitter Sectarian War with Shias
Shamus Cooke
Can Trump Salvage His Presidency in Syria’s War?
Thomas S. Harrington
“Risk”: a Sad Comedown for Laura Poitras
Josh White
Towards the Corbyn Doctrine
Mike Whitney
Rosenstein and Mueller: the Regime Change Tag-Team
Jan Oberg
Trump in Riyadh: an Arab NATO Against Syria and Iran
Susan Babbitt
The Most Dangerous Spy You’ve Never Heard Of: Ana Belén Montes
Rannie Amiri
Al-Awamiya: City of Resistance
Dimitris Konstantakopoulos
The European Left and the Greek Tragedy
Laura Leigh
This Land is Your Land, Except If You’re a Wild Horse Advocate
Hervé Kempf
Macron, Old World President
Michael J. Sainato
Devos Takes Out Her Hatchet
L. Ali Khan
I’m a Human and I’m a Cartoon
May 22, 2017
Diana Johnstone
All Power to the Banks! The Winners-Take-All Regime of Emmanuel Macron
Robert Fisk
Hypocrisy and Condescension: Trump’s Speech to the Middle East
John Grant
Jeff Sessions, Jesus Christ and the Return of Reefer Madness
Nozomi Hayase
Trump and the Resurgence of Colonial Racism
Rev. William Alberts
The Normalizing of Authoritarianism in America
Frank Stricker
Getting Full Employment: the Fake Way and the Right Way 
Jamie Davidson
Red Terror: Anti-Corbynism and Double Standards
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, Sweden, and Continuing Battles
Robert Jensen
Beyond Liberal Pieties: the Radical Challenge for Journalism
Patrick Cockburn
Trump’s Extravagant Saudi Trip Distracts from His Crisis at Home
Angie Beeman
Gig Economy or Odd Jobs: What May Seem Trendy to Privileged City Dwellers and Suburbanites is as Old as Poverty
Colin Todhunter
The Public Or The Agrochemical Industry: Who Does The European Chemicals Agency Serve?
Jerrod A. Laber
Somalia’s Worsening Drought: Blowback From US Policy
Michael J. Sainato
Police Claimed Black Man Who Died in Custody Was Faking It
Clancy Sigal
I’m a Trump Guy, So What?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail