John deGraaf's "Vacation Act of 2008"
There was a recent article by Alina Tugend in The New York Times on the importance of taking vacations - timely, given that this is the first full week of summer.
The article held few surprises: vacations are good for you; Americans get skimpier vacations than anywhere else in the industrialized world; a vacation that involves hiding your Blackberry behind a James Patterson paperback so people will think you're really vacationing won't give you the benefits of a true, distractions-off holiday.
What were really interesting were some of the statistics Tugend offered:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about a quarter of all workers in the private sector do not receive paid vacation. And the Conference Board, a private research group, said the number of Americans who said in April that they were going to take a vacation in the next six months is at a 30-year low, according to their regular consumer survey. Only 39 percent of those responding said they would go away on holiday over the next half year.
That is the lowest figure since 1978 and reflects a general decline since 2000, when, in April of that year, 49 percent said they were planning a getaway in the next six months.
The article cites the work of John deGraaf, who runs a non-profit, Take Back Your Time, which is pushing Congress to enact pro-vacation legislation. Apparently, we're the only industrialized country that doesn't have such a law.
Mr. de Graaf sees a solution to the vacation deprivation problem, even if it’s a long shot. His organization is working with Congress to consider national legislation requiring paid vacation time. He is hoping that such legislation, currently called the Minimum Leave Protection, Family Bonding and Personal Well-Being Act, will be introduced next year. It calls for a mandated three weeks of vacation every year.
“It’s tough, there’s no question about it, but there’s a lot of interest in it,” Mr. de Graaf said. “There’s less business opposition for this leave than sick leave or parenting leave because it’s more predictable.”
He estimated that it could add an extra 2 percent to 4 percent to the labor costs of a business, but “that would be balanced by less turnover and maybe less sick days.”
deGraaf is neither casual nor facetious in his efforts here. He is editor of a 2003 book, Take Back Your Time:Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America; co-author of Affluenza: the All-Consuming Epidemic; and a documentary filmmaker on these topics.
New American Dream helps Americans consume responsibly to protect the environment, enhance quality of life, and promote social justice
In an article of deGraaf's I read on New Dream he asks the "What's the Economy For" question, and discusses how we as a nation have chosen a path that's all about consumption - which leads us to into the trap of suburban sprawl, endless commutes in low mileage SUV's, fall-apart crap we don't need - and neither the time nor the desire to take vacations. Meanwhile, across the pond, our European brethren drive Smart Cars, live in flats in cities, and have time to hang out in cafes and to take vacations. (When I went back to check on this article, the link was broken, so I'm not sure exactly what he says in there, but the gist is we can have a healthy economy that's not just focused on the accumulation of stuff.)
Regular readers will recognize this as a common rant of mine, the most recent of which is probably my screed on the Clean Coal ads.
Good luck to John deGraaf and the Vacation Act. Frankly, I don't think it stands much of a chance. It's really terrible that so many people don't get a paid vacation. (As a consultant, I guess I'm one of them.) It's really terrible that so few people indicated that they'll be taking a vacation anytime soon. (I'm not one of them.) But I don't imagine we'll be getting any vacation laws anytime soon.
But I really wish him luck with his efforts to get the conversation going about what the hell the economy is for.
Somewhere along the line, we started equating it with consuming. We'd be a lot better off if we started defining it as the mechanism to provide us with a meaningful, sensible, more healthful way of life.