A recent poll of Washington State voters found that 71 percent of workers in the state get ten or fewer paid days off. Over half (52 percent) get one week or less, and a full third get no paid vacation at all.
National numbers from last summer aren’t much better: Overall, only 14 percent of Americans got a vacation of two weeks or longer in 2008. A third of women and a quarter of men get no annual leave anymore, as annual leave benefits are being eliminated like pensions.
In today’s economic climate, those who do have paid time off are afraid to take it for fear they could be laid off if they do.
But what are the hidden costs of working without sufficient time off? Are paid vacations a luxury or should time off be required by law?
These are questions being asked by a new coalition of business, labor, and citizens in Washington—the Vacation Matters Coalition (and Right2Vacation, nationally). They’re looking for ways to guarantee more vacation time for Washingtonians, including a possible ballot initiative.
And it looks like such an initiative would fare pretty well. The same State poll shows that a solid majority of voters (60 percent) would support a measure legally requiring 10, 12 or 15 paid vacation days each year (for full-time employees and pro-rated for part-timers). Across the nation, 69 percent said they’d support a paid-vacation law.
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Vacations, it seems, aren’t just days off. “Vacations are good for your health,” says Dr. Stephen Bezruchka of the University of Washington School of Public Health. “They can actually help reduce health care costs.” Dave Batker, an economist who currently runs the non-profit Earth Economics, points out that “vacations are good for business too. They increase worker productivity and morale.”
Take Back Your Time’s Executive Director John de Graaf—who’s spearheaded a national movement to value a healthy life-work balance—points out that all other industrial countries require vacations by law, while not a single US state requires paid vacation time.
“Washington State should take the lead and become the first state in the United States to have such a law,” says de Graaf. “It would be a huge boon for Washington’s ailing tourist industry, especially because Washington State residents are more likely to vacation in-state than are residents of most other states. It would also draw skilled workers to our state and strengthen its reputation as one of America’s most forward-looking states.”