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Why U.S. vacation policies are so much worse than Europe's

ByTeam BB

Apr 19, 2023


The United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee paid time off. 

“You have entire cultures like France … where pretty much everybody takes August off, and it’s just part of the culture there,” said Shawn Fremstad, director of law and political economy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “You don’t really see that here in the United States.”

The European Union Working Time Directive, which was passed in the early 1990s, requires at least 20 working days of paid vacation in all EU countries.

France provides a minimum of 30 paid vacation days per year. What’s more, many European countries have paid holidays as well, giving workers there even more paid days off.

“When I came to France, I noticed that vacation is a way of life,” said Fatima Cadet-Diaby, an American who has been living in Paris for nearly seven years. “People are constantly talking about their vacations.”

More vacation time could also equate to overall economic gains in the U.S.

“I think people have a stereotype of France in their mind as this kind of lazy culture,” Fremstad said. “But if you look at the employment rate there for prime age workers, so basically 25 through 54, it’s higher than in the U.S. So, they have more people working and they’re much more productive per hour.

Even though a majority of Americans do have some kind of paid time off, nearly half of workers report not using all of those days. About half worry they might fall behind on their work if they take time off, with close to 20% thinking it could hurt their career growth and 16% saying they fear losing their job, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

“There’s a certain fear we don’t have any legal protections and people have been fired for taking vacation time,” said John de Graaf, author of the book “Take Back Your Time.” 

Watch the video above to learn more about why American’s aren’t going on vacation even though they have the days off and what we can learn from our counterparts in France.



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