There have in recent years been a lot of electrons annoyed pointing out the sharp increase in wealth inequality in America. And now comes survey results showing that not only do the well off enjoy a substantially higher standard of living than the working class, they actually have leisure time in which to enjoy their largess. All in all, 41% of American working adults reported taking no vacation time whatsoever. And as the chart above shows, by far the highest percentage of people in that category made less than $25,000 a year. Here are some more of the gory details:
Although it isn’t legally required, most full-time employees in the US receive some paid vacation. It’s around 10 paid work days a year in addition to six federal holidays, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a nonprofit think tank.Referring again to the chart above, you'll notice that as incomes rise the percentage of people who did not take any vacation time sharply plummets until it hits zero at $150,000 and higher. There are several points I'd like to make here.
That may seem like small mercy by Western standards (European workers typically get far more), but the sad truth is that Americans aren’t even using the handful of vacation days at their disposal. Last year, Americans left 169 million paid vacation days on the table, saying they were too busy to use them. A series of consumer surveys conducted by travel website Skift throughout 2014 summed up Americans’ woeful travel habits. Here are some highlights:
--Only 13% of Americans traveled abroad for a vacation from August 2013 to August 2014.
--Nearly half of Americans didn’t take a single day off in the summer of 2014.
--63% of Americans did not travel at all from September 2013 to September 2014.
Skift’s latest survey is even bleaker: 41% of Americans didn’t take any vacation days in 2014. The latest survey was administered to 1,500 American adults through Google Consumer Surveys from Jan. 3-5 of this year.
Fist off, imagine just how depressing it would be to be forced to work year in and year out with no time off except for a few measly holidays. Oh, and you can forget about the "six" annual holidays if you work retail, since Thanksgiving has now become another shopping day in which many retail employees are now expected to come to work at 6:00 in the evening instead of getting to spend even that little bit of time with their families.
Secondly, even the ten vacation days a year reported to be average is pretty grim. Say you want to take the day after Thanksgiving and maybe a few days around Christmas to be with your family. Now you're already reduced to just one week away from the workplace during the rest of the year. Even if you take it all at once, it hardly represents enough time to de-stress before having to rejoin the rat race, let alone jet off to Europe to take in a bunch of cultural sites.
Thirdly, the fact that no one making over 150K a year faces this problem shows why the upper middle class, in particular, is so clueless about how awful the American working life has become for those below them on the economic ladder. Why is that so important? Well, if you pay attention at all to our media culture, particularly the commercial advertisements, what you see is that an upper middle class lifestyle is sold to viewers as being the ideal of the American dream. Every sitcom family lives in a nice big house, and every Christmas images of families buying each other a brand new Lexus with nice bow tie ribbon attached to the hood are flashed at just about every commercial break.
Our political battles are also fought at the upper middle class level, as the arguments for both sides are primarily being tailored to appeal to those among each of the two colored tribes who can afford to drive a minivan or an SUV (the difference being the tone of the bumper stickers plastered on the back). Liberal or conservative, the fact that those who serve them their coffee, wait their tables, clean their houses, check them out at the grocery store or who staff the local Macys at dinnertime on Thanksgiving night may not be enjoying the same fabulous leisure lifestyle as they do never occurs to them.
And all of that doesn't even touch on the issue of the unused vacation days that overstressed workers leave on the table not because they are too busy but because they are fearful of being replaced if they are ever absent form work. Add it all up and it makes for a pretty grim picture for anyone outside of about the top 10% of wage earners in this country.
But don't worry. I'm sure some of the money spent next Christmas on those Lexus SUVs will trickle its way down and make things all better.
Bonus: "Vacation...all I ever wanted"