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OPINION: A vacation policy

Dr. Julianne Malveaux

Dr. Julianne Malveaux

By Julianne Malveaux
Trice Edney Newswire

I dont do vacations well. I have to be pushed and prodded, just about guilt-tripped, into taking time off. Sure, Ill take an hour here, an evening there, to read a book or play word games. But it just about takes an act of God to get me to go play.

Yet, when I play, I find a lightness of spirit, rejuvenation, a rush of fresh ideas, a cessation of frustration. I play and remind myself of an 8-year-old me, pigtails (ugh) flying, water fighting, immersed in a careless and carefree world. I like to think those few days, or maybe weeks in August prepared me for the coming school year. And I always think of September 1 as the new year, the day when many schools open, and when we start over our academic year.

Few folks, it is said, work in August. Congress is on break and will accomplish nothing (as if they accomplished anything when they were not on break). That means Washington, D.C., is kind of empty and restaurants you may have waited a month to reserve are open for walk-in diners. New Yorkers have deserted the Big Apple for the Hamptons, and Bostonians have run to Marthas Vineyard or the Cape. But there are some folks who must work in August; because they dont have the same vacation privileges as so many others.

A year ago, Forbes writer Tanya Mohn wrote the United States is one of a few developed countries that does not require paid vacation for employees. While many who work for large corporations are allowed one or two weeks of paid vacation (or more if they have longer tenure), one in four workers receive no paid vacation.  Most of them are low-wage workers, or people who work for small businesses. Perhaps they need the chilltime more than the professionals who earn it easily. But while workers in other developed countries have the right to vacation time, many in our country do not.

In most European countries, including France, Italy and Germany, workers are entitled to about 20 days a year. Many of the shops in Paris are closed in August because so many people have taken vacation time. Inconvenient?  Thats just how it is. People need time off to relax, replenish and revive. In Japan and Canada, people are entitled to at least 10 days off. Thats less than the European Union countries, but more than the United States. What do these countries see that we dont? They see a relaxed workforce is a more productive workforce. They see workplace stress is an issue. They understand people snapwhen there is an unrelenting amount of pressure they must deal with.

I write about this as a labor economist, a person who studies workplaces, their designs and their outcomes. I write about this as a person who has managed people and who understands their challenges. I write about this as a person who will not take a vacation unless you make me. And I write about this as an African American who understands how infrequently African American workers have the opportunity to simply chill.

African American families earn about $31,000 a year, compared to about $50,000 for whites.  African Americans have much higher unemployment rates than the overall average. African Americans are overrepresented in the number of people holding multiple jobs. African Americans are both the most needy of chill time and the least likely to afford it.

Those who work hardest and get the fewest benefits need vacations more than the rest of us do. The Starbucks barista, standing on her feet all day, and fake smiling when somebody asks for a triple chai latte, the housekeeper at a hotel who hopes the person who left her room a mess also left a tip, the sidewalk sweeper who watches the street he just cleaned muck up in an instant, these are the folks who need vacations.

Our national policy does not entitle people to vacation time, sick leave or other kinds of leave. Too often, employers provide it as a perknot a necessity. Still, when you look at our unproductive Congress taking a month-long break, you have to wonder why everyone doesnt get his or her perk. Or at least a week, at least two weeks — something.

You cant do your best without a rest. How can we possibly compete with our European Union colleagues when we treat our workers with less concern?

Julianne Malveaux is an author, economist, and educator based in Washington, D.C.

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