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Robert Reich: A Bold Proposal

August 10, 2012

Robert Reich returns from vacation strongly in favor of vacations.

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Image from Flickr via Loren Sztajer

By Robert Reich
By arrangement with Robert Reich

Back from three weeks off grid, much of it hiking in Alaska and Australia.

When I left the U.S. economy was in a stall, Greece was on the brink of defaulting, the euro-zone couldn’t get its act together, the Fed couldn’t decide on another round of quantitative easing, congressional Democrats and Republicans were in gridlock, much of the nation was broiling, and neither Obama nor Romney had put forward a bold proposal for boosting the economy, slowing climate change, or much of anything else. 

What a difference three weeks makes. 

Here’s a bold proposal I offer free of charge to Obama or Romney: Every American should get a mandatory minimum of three weeks paid vacation a year.

Most Americans only get two weeks off right now. But many don’t even take the full two weeks out of fear of losing their jobs. One in four gets no paid vacation at all, not even holidays. Overall, Americans have less vacation time than workers in any other advanced economy.

 Women who take regular vacations experience less tension and depression year round. Studies also show that men who take regular vacations have less likelihood of heart disease and fewer heart attacks.

This is absurd. A mandatory three weeks off would be good for everyone—including employers.

Studies show workers who take time off are more productive after their batteries are recharged. They have higher morale and are less likely to mentally check out on the job.

This means more output per worker—enough to compensate employers for the cost of hiring additional workers to cover for everyone’s three weeks’ vacation time.

It’s also a win for the economy, because these additional workers would bring down the level of unemployment and put more money into more people’s pockets. This extra purchasing power would boost the economy overall.

More and longer vacations would also improve our health. A study by Wisconsin’s Marshfield Clinic shows women who take regular vacations experience less tension and depression year round. Studies also show that men who take regular vacations have less likelihood of heart disease and fewer heart attacks.

Better health is not just good for us as individuals. It also translates into more productive workers, fewer sick days, less absenteeism. And lower health care costs.

In other words, a three-week minimum vacation is a win-win-win—good for workers, good for employers, and good for the economy.

And I guarantee it would also be a winner among voters. Obama, Romney—either of you listening? 

Author Image

Robert B. Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.

Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future; The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, Beyond Outrage. His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.

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