Saturday, September 5, 2009

Necessity, Not Luxury

In so many respects, the US always finds itself in the worst company. John de Graaf's piece, No Vacation Nation, reminds us of one them:

Nearly all other countries in the world have something we don’t: a national law mandating that workers receive some amount of paid vacation each year. Only the Guyanas, Nepal, and that paragon of human rights, Myanmar (Burma) join the US in having no vacation law.

What’s with the difference? And does it really matter if people have vacation time or not? Some 50 experts from the fields of medicine, psychology, business, labor, recreation, environmental sciences, and family studies joined a group of activists at Seattle University to try to answer those questions.

Their answers were resoundingly clear: vacations are not an idle luxury. They’re a crucial ingredient in creating a healthy, civically engaged, and environmentally responsible society.

Vacations matter, especially for health. Sarah Speck, a cardiologist at Seattle’s Swedish hospital, scared everyone at the conference with a graphic look at the impact of stress, and especially workplace stress, on heart health, concluding that such stress is “the new tobacco,” and that vacations are an important way to reduce stress and burnout. Dr. Arnold Pallay, a family physician from New Jersey, confirmed Dr. Speck’s findings, saying that many of the health problems his patients suffer from stem from lack of vacation time. “Take two weeks and call me in the morning,” he tells them.

Representative Alan Grayson of Orlando, Florida introduced the Paid Vacation Act of 2009, the first effort to pass a vacation law in the United States since 1936. “When people tell me they oppose such a law, I ask them if they get vacations,” Grayson told participants, “and every single one of them has said, ‘Yes.’ They want vacations for themselves but not for others.”

Grayson’s proposed law (HR 2564) is extremely modest—one to two weeks of paid time off for workers in companies with more than 50 employees—but it’s a start, a down payment toward a time when we recognize the greater cost we pay for not providing vacation time. Even now, that cost to our already overburdened health system is substantial—men who don’t take regular vacations are 32 percent more likely to have heart attacks than those who do; for women, the figure is 50 percent. And they are two to three times as likely to suffer from depression.

Can anyone actually imagine that Grayson's proposed law would ever actually pass? Congress begrudges working people even the most rudimentary form of healthcare. I frankly find it impossible to imagine their being willing to lift the burden from workers for even seven days a year. I'm sure they'd think that would be socialism!

It's Labor Day Weekend in the US. Despite its origins, for most people it usually represents the point after which everyone of all ages is expected to buckle down and get hard (or even harder) to work. Sort of like a Mardi Gras for the Lent that is daily life in our lovely capitalist society.


Josh said...

Future Vice President Michele Bachmann: "I am so proud to be from the state of Minnesota. We're the workingest state in the country, and the reason why we are, we have more people that are working longer hours, we have people that are working two jobs."

Josh said...
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