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Robert B. Reich: A modest proposal, three weeks of paid vacation

Here's a modest proposal I offer free of charge to President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney:

Every American should get a mandatory minimum of three week's 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. About 40 percent of U.S. workers, or more than 55 million Americans, don't get paid when they take vacation or sick days, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Employees in some industries do better than in others. The 8.1 million Americans working in the financial industry are twice as likely to have paid time off as the nation's 8.7 million construction workers. The worst rates are in the leisure and hospitality sectors, where fewer than 25 percent of workers are given paid vacation or sick days.

But no matter where you look or how you add it up, Americans work harder and longer. We're the only advanced economy without a national leave policy guaranteeing a break for employees.

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

Studies show that 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 greater output per worker -- enough to compensate employers for the cost of hiring additional workers to cover for everyone's three weeks of 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.

Requiring paid vacations hasn't hurt other economies. Germany has one of the strongest economies in Europe, and it mandates a minimum of four weeks paid vacation per year.

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. Messrs. Obama, Romney -- either of you listening?

Robert B. Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California and former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is the author of the newly released "Beyond Outrage: What has gone wrong with our economy and our democracy, and how to fix it," a Knopf e-book original.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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