This Labor Day, Much of America Will Be . . . Laboring

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Will you be barbecuing this Labor Day, or slaving away at the office? According to new survey data from Bloomberg BNA and Beyond.com, many Americans will have the somewhat ironic pleasure of laboring on the day that’s meant to commemorate the “social and economic achievements of the American worker.”

Bloomberg BNA data shows that 39 percent of employers will keep operations open and require some workers to come into work, while a seperate survey of Beyond.com users says that 45% of those folks will spend Labor Day working or looking for work.

Surely the Beyond data isn’t representative of the American population, as people using that service are more likely to be on a job search. But these numbers do call to mind an empirical fact: When it comes to getting paid time off, American workers are far behind their peers in other developed countries.

no-vacation-update-2013-05-fig1

The above chart from The Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) highlights the differences in legal requirements for paid time off in the developed world. The United States is a major outlier among its developed peers when it comes to mandatory time off, and that ends up effecting poorer workers more than anybody else. According to the CEPR, though 23% of American workers don’t receive paid time off, that number jumps to 49% for the bottom fourth of wage earners.

So do we benefit at all from working so much more than our developed peers? Left-leaning economists think not. TIME investigated the issue last year, quoting CEPR economist Jason Schmitt who argued the macroeconomic effect of mandatory paid time off is “actually pretty small,” and that “It’s very hard to say that those policies are connected to any kind of a reduction in economic performance.”

But does this make sense? If employers are required to give a worker a lot of time off, that worker is going to produce less. All else equal, this will make the worker less valuable to an employer, and lower his pay. In this time of over-indebtedness, both among citizens and the government, it hardly makes sense to enact restrictions on how much people are allowed to work, as it’s only through work that we’ll lower these debts.

That being said, there is evidence that countries that have higher paid time off requirements actually work more efficiently than workers in America do. Take Belgium for example, which requires a whopping 30 days of paid time off. Though Belgium’s output per person was just 71% of America’s in 2012,  its output per hour worked was 100.5% of America’s. In other words, when Belgian workers are on the job, they’re slightly more efficient than Americans. Then again, Belgium consistently has a higher unemployment rate than the U.S., which may mean that its least efficient workers simply can’t find a job at all.

Furthermore, apart from a few small outlying countries, American workers are the most productive in the world. Since that’s the case, we must be doing something right. Many economists believe our relative productivity is a product of having fewer restrictions on businesses, like requiring paid time off.

The debate over paid time off is actually quite similar to that over the minimum wage. After all, vacation time is just another form of compensation. Logically, requiring employers to give vacation time is going to decrease pay, and increase unemployment on the margin.

But the real economy is a much more complicated place than theoretical models suggest, and there are most likely cases where labor markets just aren’t that competitive, allowing employers to pay workers less than they’re worth. In those situations, mandated paid time off would have little economic downside — and let more of us celebrate Labor Day together.

22 comments
neverfollow
neverfollow

A sorry situation....But the article would have been even more effective if you had correctly stated:

 ".... and that ends up (a)ffecting poorer workers more than anybody else...."

The labors of someone's teacher  apparently had little effect. (I.e., usage of affect vs. effect.)

ThaliaSutton
ThaliaSutton

So, I have a part-time job at a store. I also freelance from home to help make ends meet.  I routinely work 21 days in a row for one day off.

My efficiency comes to a grueling slog after "just" 7 days of no break days.  By 14, I get exhaustion-related anxiety and end up becoming unable to do the work I was doing for several days. (But these are not vacation days. These are comatose days spent battling depressive thoughts.)

But after just one real day off that I can feel in control of and enjoy however I please, the next day my productivity is 4x higher than a normal day.  Four!  (And ~8x higher than the slog days.)

There's a similar factor visible with graduate students (as I was also one) --- we tend to do all of our work in one eight hour sitting without looking up.  But after two or three days, it becomes impossible.  You HAVE to take breaks. Five minutes an hour, or fifteen every 1.5, or the like.  And that way, even with breaks, your eight-hour task takes you maybe 6, AND you retain more.  Sure, you can slave away at something, but the body and mind weren't meant to do that.  They were meant to do, get curious about something related to that doing, then go back to doing the thing, and doing it better.  Vacation days work the same.  Do you think cavemen did the same thing every day on a regular schedule, whether they liked it or not? Nope. They wandered around and did what they liked.

I'm the first to say we shouldn't expect too many vacation days, because it will spoil people into becoming lazy and entitled.  But I do believe there should be one national holiday a month, to motivate people to work hard for the coming reward, and feel less stressed (I'm more invested in it being a non-work day rather than a paid day).  Just knowing it's there--and not an option--forces them to take care of themselves, which makes them work smarter and more efficiently.  The mental health aspect of vacations, however short, cannot be overlooked. 

vstillwell
vstillwell like.author.displayName 1 Like

Well, let's see, we have a terrible economy, a corrupt Congress and the complete erosion of workers rights in the private sector. What else should we expect? In fact, most of the people working today won't get paid time and half. They'll just get their regular minimum wage paycheck for the day. 

BillC
BillC

Everyone seems to think working more is the answer, doesn't seem to be working out though. What this survey doesn't take into account is the mental health of the workers who don't get any paid time off. Study after study has shown that when workers are happier they are more productive. Making someone grind away at their job day after day with no time isn't a good way to achieve any work-life balance. All work and no play play makes Johnny a very angry boy! In America we always seem to think the answer is more work, but how about we do a different comparison. All these countries that have more PTO than us, most of these are the same countries that have been gaining ground on us economically over the last few years right? Interesting.

gardenrock7
gardenrock7

the Koch brothers and most other corporate greedmongers and their paid for politicians are steadily destroying the working middle class, making everyone live at the illegal alien living standard to further implement their GREED and power, and for those anti union fools, you are getting the results you want, it's just a matter of time before your job goes to hell too!

vstillwell
vstillwell

@gardenrock7 According to Charles Koch and his political machine, an American family making $34,000 per year is rich! Yes, I actually saw the ad. 

ThomasMcKeddie
ThomasMcKeddie

My husband works from home. it's saved United States virtually thousands of bucks in commutation expenses. as a result of he will work for anyplace there's a reliable web association, we have a tendency to were ready to stick with my mother when the death of my father surrogate while not my husband eager to take vacation time?????? w­w­w.B­a­y­9­3.c­o­m

ThomasMcKeddie
ThomasMcKeddie

what Steven implied I cant believe that any body can profit $8807 in one month on the internet. more w­w­w.B­a­y­9­3.ℂ­o­m

sobrien302
sobrien302

It all seems to be the question of who sits at the top of the economic food chain - who does this economy (and country) work to promote:  is it the obligation for citizens to work for the betterment of the corporations or is it the corporations that ought to be working for the betterment of the citizens?  Once greed became the national priority, the corporations have had that answer in their undisputed favor.

A rational society will have to reel in those corporate greed mongers and put the interests of the people of this nation first.  Corporations ought ot make profits but only within the contest of the social responsibility they have shirked in the past decades.

tom.litton
tom.litton

@sobrien302 Corporations should be greedy.  They do and should have a responsibility to maximize profits on behalf of their shareholders.  


However, the government should put in place rules that prevent that greed from hurting the nation.  That is the piece that has broken down.  Now the rules are for the benefit of that greed, not to protect the nation.

angelakolios
angelakolios

If you have a job you are lucky!!     Because of Bilingual education I have lost my job to a Mexican National.

To the Obama voters.   .Because of Bilingual education blacks are loosing on teaching jobs here Houston.

JJGA
JJGA like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@angelakolios If you are a teacher using the word "loosing," you don't deserve your job.

sobrien302
sobrien302 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@angelakolios  The GOP/TEA party fanatic push for cuts in taxes are what is costing teachers and other public service employees their jobs all over this nation.  Classifying all who work in the public sector as parasites was a short-term financial position that will have long-term negative effects for this country.

AbinicoWarez
AbinicoWarez like.author.displayName 1 Like

Medieval peasants had more free and vacation time than modern Americans; most of Europe shuts down for the summer so people can vacation; Americans are well trained slaves. 

WalterAdams
WalterAdams like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@AbinicoWarez 
Oh those wonderful day of yore, life as a peasant in medievil Europe
Walking home through the mud while the air is filled with the fragrant mist of chamber pots emptied from the upper rooms into the street.
The creaking of the cart wheels overlaid with the ringing bell and the melodic chant; "Bring out your dead-bring out your dead."
Up before the Sun, sopping up the last of your breakfast mush with a crust of yesterdays bread that escaped the rats.
Working sixteen hours in his lordships field for 8 grotchens (we got a raise)
Coming home to a full table ( little Tom was run down by one of the Kings Men at Arms, so theres more for the rest of us)
And lest you should think those good times are gone, in Spain half the people don't work at all.
And most of the young men in Greece can spend weeks down at the beach, working on their tan I guess.
But us dumb Americans, too stupid to emulate the work habits of the obviously superior Europeans.
When will we ever learn?

totallyrocksolid
totallyrocksolid like.author.displayName 1 Like

What this says to me is that American workers don't hold the same value to their employers as our foreign counterparts do.  It all goes back to the GREED of the American corporation.  As long as we're maximizing their profits.....we can continue to slave away...for less than we are worth.

sallyedelstein
sallyedelstein

Once upon a time, American workers were spurred on at work by a series of motivational posters that hung in factories and offices across the country. Company's such as General Motors, Kodak and Kelloggs all hung these colorful posters that were a graphic expression of Good American Work Ethic. Take a look http://wp.me/p2qifI-IO

DonnieBrasco
DonnieBrasco like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

The Land of Freedom is a farce.... This is just structured slavery today...  A pyramid scheme... Had these numbers been prevalent 70 or 80 years ago when we were laying infrastructure, producing innovative products, and leading the world in originality they would be prudent... Today we just work, many times, through empty jobs to give us capital to buy "things" which are marketed to us through Hollywood and Television.... "Keep up with the Jones", who have become a sad inflated caricature of what they once were....

AhmadMalik169
AhmadMalik169

My husband works from home. it's saved United States virtually thousands of bucks in commutation expenses. as a result of he will work for anyplace there's a reliable web association, we have a tendency to were ready to stick with my mother when the death of my father surrogate while not my husband eager to take vacation time??????w­w­w.w­o­r­k­3­5.Co­m