One in Four U.S. Workers Receives No Paid Vacation

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By Eric Davis

The United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacation time, according to a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. As a result, one in four private-sector workers in the U.S. does not receive any paid vacation or paid holidays.

The report, “No-Vacation Nation,” by Rebecca Ray and John Schmitt, finds that European workers are legally guaranteed at least 20 paid vacation days per year, with 25 and even 30 or more days common in some countries. The gap between paid time off in the United States and the rest of the world is even larger when legal holidays are included. The United States does not guarantee any paid holidays, but most wealthy countries provide between 5 and 13 per year, in addition to paid vacation days.

“The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation days and paid holidays,” said John Schmitt, senior economist and coauthor of the report. “Relying on businesses to voluntarily provide paid leave just hasn’t worked. It’s a national embarrassment that 28 million Americans don’t get any paid vacation or paid holidays.”

The sum of the average paid vacation and paid holidays provided to U.S. workers in the private sector—15 in total—would not meet even the minimum required by law in 19 other rich countries.

The lack of paid vacation and paid holidays in the U.S. is particularly acute for lower-wage and part-time workers, and for employees of small businesses. The report finds:

  • Employees of small businesses in the U.S. are less likely to have any paid vacation (70%) than those in medium and large establishments (86%).
  • Lower-wage workers in the U.S. (those making less than $15 per hour) are even worse off. Only 69% have paid vacation, compared to 88% of higher-wage workers.
  • Part-time workers in the U.S., who are much more likely to be women, are far less likely to have paid vacations (36%) than are full-time workers (90%).

The authors also found that several foreign countries offer additional time off for younger and older workers, shift workers, and those engaged in community service such as jury duty or voting.

The report reviewed the most recently available data from a range of national and international sources on statutory requirements for paid vacations and paid holidays in 21 rich countries (16 European countries, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States). The analysis does not cover paid sick leave, parental leave, or leave to care for a sick family member.

For more information about CEPR’s “No-Vacation Nation” report, visit

About the Author(s)

Eric Davis is associate editor at i4cp.