May 4, 2011

The Sad State of American Vacation Benefits

I'm happy to work for a company that gives pretty good amount of paid vacation time.   Many Americans aren't so lucky to have good vacation benefits..  Most of Dad's vacation time was called "being unemployed". 

USA versus Other Countries

Compared to almost all other industrialized nations, Americans get and take very little vacation time off.     We get no guaranteed vacation and the average amount of vacation given by employers is around 10-15 days.   By comparison many of the European nations get 4 weeks paid vacation every year mandated by law.

These countries all get 20 days of vacation or more :
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom

Canada and Japan are both similar to the USA in the amount of vacation time people get.   They both average about 10 days vacation time.

This CNN article from back in 2007 discussed a report by the consulting company Mercer that shows the amount of vacation and paid holiday time that people get in various nations.   The USA ranks pretty close to bottom.     Also the Mercer report gives the numbers that are 'typical' in America.    There is a big fat asterisk by the US numbers and at the bottom of the table it explains the asterisk as: "These numbers reflect typical practice among large U.S. firms. There is no federal law requiring employers to give a minimum number of vacation days and holidays off, paid or unpaid."

We don't Use what we Get

This ABC News article from last summer reported that "only 57 percent of people here are taking all of their vacation time"     By comparison 89% of the French and 77% of the British use all their allotted time.  This older article from Businessweek in 2007 says "more than half of American workers fail to take all their vacation days. Thirty percent say they use less than half their allotted time. " and "42% claim they have to cancel vacation plans "regularly."  

Now these reports don't specify if the vacation time is 'banked' or paid out in cash or simply forfeited.   Some of the people not taking vacation may simply be saving it for later.   Still going long periods without time off is not very good for your productivity.

Vacation Days  Per Years Seniority

The amount of paid vacation time goes up with seniority as a general rule.   The BLS table for the number of annual paid vacation days by service time breaks down the numbers.

Number of vacation days for private (non government) workers are as follows: 

mean median
After 1 year 10 10
5 years 14 15
10 years 17 15
20 years 19 20

You might expect that government workers in the USA get big fat vacation time but they only average 1-3 days more than private employees.  Extra 1-3 days is nothing to whine about but its not like they get 3 extra weeks or anything.

For government workers the number of vacation days are :

mean median
After 1 year 12 12
5 years 15 15
10 years 18 18
20 years 22 22

Percent distribution of number of days off 

BLS has a page on the Paid Vacation Benefits 2009   They give the percentage distribution of the number of paid vacation days based on years of experience.

Here is that data in a chart :

After 1 year After 5 years After 10 years After 20 years
<5 days 7% 2% 2% 2%
5 to 9 35% 9% 7% 6%
10 to 14 39% 36% 15% 12%
15 to 19 11% 36% 43% 17%
20 to 24 6% 11% 23% 38%
over 24 2% 6% 12% 25%

As you can see, in general the more experience you have on the job the more vacation you get.   But there are variations there.   A minority of people with 20 years experience get a week or less of vacation.     On the other end some people with just 1 year on the job get as much as 4 or more weeks paid vacation.

Nature of Job

The data table for private employees on the BLS site breaks down paid vacation data further.

78% of workers got paid vacations
22% of workers received NO paid vacation

Only 44% of the people making wages in the bottom 10% got paid vacation.
88% of the highest 10% earners got paid vacation

91% of full time workers got paid vacation
38% of part time workers got paid vacation

69% of employees of companies that have 1-49 workers got paid vacation
90% of employees for large companies with 500 or more workers got paid vacation

Bottom Line:  Relative to other industrialized nations we don't get much vacation time in America. On top of that Americans use their available vacation less as well. 

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