The Only Advanced Country Without a National Vacation Policy? It's the U.S.

There's no wrong way to celebrate American exceptionalism, but this might not be the best candidate for cheering this July 4th Week: The United States is practically the only developed country in the world that doesn't require companies to give their workers time off. In Germany, workers are guaranteed a month. In the UK, they're guaranteed more than five weeks of paid vacation. In the U.S., unique in its class, there is no such guarantee. There's your American exceptionalism:

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Ouch.

To be fair, some states and local governments have minimum paid vacation laws. (Here in New York state, "payment for time not actually worked [i.e.: holidays, sick time, vacations] is not required.") And around the country, nine in ten full-time workers get paid leave from their employers averaging 12 days, according to a paper by Rebecca Ray and John Schmitt for the European Commission. That still puts us at the bottom of the OECD.

Still, don't blame Washington. Blame yourself. Americans don't even make use of the paid vacation they have. In 2011, a Harris Interactive study found that 57% of working Americans had up to two weeks of unused vacation time at the end of 2011. Multiple hours-worked studies conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the OECD have found the Americans work longer hours than practically any advanced country except South Korea and Japan. The United States' long-hour culture permeates both our day-to-day family choices and our national laws, creating an up-and-down feedback loop of industriousness. I'll stop short of commenting on that loop further, for risk of stepping some very smart people's toes. But at the very least, I'll say enjoy your Wednesday off, America. You've earned it.

_______

*Mandatory paid employment leave by country is hard to compare, because some countries count "paid days," others count "calendar days," and most have a sliding scale that allows more vacation time for more experienced workers. In Japan, for example, mandatory paid vacation doubles in your first six years working. In cases like this, the researchers took the average, counted five days for every week listed, and, in countries where vacation time is listed in calendar days, assumed a five-day week.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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