By CNN Global Public Square
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The summer holiday season is winding down. But last Monday, Americans got to enjoy one last hurrah. A federal holiday – Columbus Day.
But can we afford all these days off? And how does America compare with the rest of the world?
Well, the consulting firm Mercer ranks countries by the number of holidays each requires by law. The data confirms a number of commonly held stereotypes (and there a few surprises). Take a look. Top of the list is the United Kingdom, with 28 statutory holidays. Nine of the top ten countries are, of course, in Europe who love La Dolce Vita. Eight of those are in Western Europe.
But look further down the list and it continues to be dominated by European countries: about 20 days off for the Germans, Irish, and Italians. Then come a bunch of Latin American states, and then the Asian ones – Hong Kong, Pakistan, and Singapore with just 14 statutory holidays.
Where’s the United States? Dead last, actually. Zero statutory holidays! That’s because federal law does not mandate pay for time not worked. In practice however, Mercer says Americans are allowed about 15 working days off a year – still pretty close to bottom of the list. What’s more, only about half of Americans actually take their full quota of days off, according to the World Tourism Organization. Europeans, once again, have no such qualms.
But let’s go back to Columbus Day. Federal holidays like those are counted separately. These are days when government offices and banks are closed – and so businesses have an incentive to follow suit. But even on those, the U.S. lags behind. Mercer puts the U.S. at joint 9th place, with 9 such days. Top of the list are India, with 16 such public holidays, and Colombia even higher, with 18. But Argentina has climbed even higher after the Mercer survey was published. It now has 19 public holidays. They too, had last Monday off. But they don’t call it Columbus Day; in Argentina it is called “Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity.” The Financial Times reports how these holidays have increased by 7 full days since President Cristina Kirchner took office in 2007 – a 60 percent jump. The logic here isn’t simply to keep people happy. The FT points out that domestic tourism during long weekends has increased by 40 percent this year. The government estimates more than 800,000 people traveled around the country last weekend, spending $130 million. So how’s that for a paradox – holidays that boost economic growth.
In fact it’s a tradeoff: the boost to tourism versus a decline in economic activity. But countries also have to juggle political and cultural sensitivities.
Holidays offer a chance to recharge. Americans shouldn’t worry about taking some time off. Look around the world; we are not slackers. Most important, our growth has been fueled not by long hours, but by innovation, productivity, education, and immigration.
One final thought. How about adding one holiday to the U.S. calendar – one which most countries have. Presidential Election Day. If we did that, we might find that many more Americans would take part in what should be an essential act of citizenship.