25% of American Workers Are Getting Screwed Out of an Important Benefit

25% of American Workers Are Getting Screwed Out of an Important Benefit

The news: Want to take some time off? If you're American, best of luck. About 1 in 4 U.S. workers receive no employer-funded vacation time. And the less money they earn, the less likely they are to snag even a single paid vacation day.

Depressing recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics highlights that the paid vacation problem is both severe and growing. In the 1990s, 82% of private sector workers had some form of paid vacation, compared to just 77% now. Counting state and local government workers (at a dismal 59% rate), the total percentage of civilians who receive at least one paid vacation day is just 74%. Under half of the lowest quarter of earners get paid time off. 

The background: The Boston Globe's Katie Johnston writes that the U.S. is 1 of 13 countries in the world without mandatory vacation time for employees, which puts it in the company of "India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, and a handful of island nations." 

Among the world's richest nations, the United States is an absolute outlier. Here's what U.S. vacation policy looks like compared to the rest of the OECD, courtesy of a 2013 report from the Center For Economic and Policy Research:

Image Credit: Center For Economic and Policy Research

Americans must rely on the generosity of their employer for paid vacation time, which might explain why many are hesitant to use all of it. A survey by Glassdoor found that the average U.S. worker only takes about half of their paid time off, while 15% don't use any of it. Workers cited reasons such as worrying over lost productivity, dedication to their company, fear of losing their job or not meeting goals.

Why you should care: Business and political elites like to cry socialism at the mere mention of mandatory paid vacation time, but CEPR economist John Schmitt told CBS that U.S. policies mirrored Europe's until about the 1970s.

"A key issue is that we're a more unequal society than all of the countries we looked at, and that creates a different work environment where people feel they may be penalized for taking time off," he said.

Income inequality is skyrocketing at the same time companies have been extracting more and more productivity out of fewer employees. This is a fundamentally unfair situation and the U.S.' lack of any paid vacation requirements is one more way companies are able to take advantage of workers — especially poorly-paid ones.