Money and Democracy

Published — July 1, 2009 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Mandatory one-week vacation legislation lacks congressional support


As Congress leaves town for the July 4th recess, a timely bill is languishing in the House: the Paid Vacation Act.

Rep. Alan Grayson, a first-term Florida Democrat, recently introduced the act, which would require employers to provide a week of paid leave for all their workers. Specifically, the bill would require employers with 100 or more workers to give their staff one paid week off, after a year on the job; three years after its passage, the bill would expand to include employers with 50 workers and, at that time, companies with 100 employees would be required to provide two weeks of paid vacation.

Right now, the United States is the only industrialized country with no mandatory paid leave or holidays. Even with one paid week off, however, the United States would still lag far behind other industrialized nations, according to a 2007 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Two weeks off would place the U.S. on par with Canada and Japan, but still far behind the European Union’s 20 days per year.

Although it’s not required, most Americans do get time off, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). But the amount of time off varies widely. For instance, just 63 percent of construction workers receive paid vacation, compared to 96 percent of managers. And the BLS stats don’t calculate how many days off workers get — just if they get any paid vacation at all.

The bill’s prospects are not sunny: just two of Rep. Grayson’s House colleagues have cosponsored the bill, Rep. Maurice Hinchey of New York and Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, and there is no companion legislation in the Senate.

Not included in the BLS data is information on how much time off is given to members of Congress. In 2008, the House was in session for 188 days, and the Senate was in session for 182. When members are not in session, they can use their time as they see fit: fact-finding trips, campaigning in their districts, local services and outreach, and yes, going on vacation.

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