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Vacation? Americans are laying it to rest
The New York Times
In August, when much of the world is hard at work trying to do nothing, Jeff Hopkins and his wife, Denise, usually take a week to chase fish in Olympic National Park, a ferry ride and two tanks of gasoline from Seattle with a boat in tow. But this year, their summer vacation is dead, a victim of $3-a-gallon gas and job uncertainty.
"This is our vacation," said Hopkins, loading up his drift boat for an evening of fishing in Seattle just after getting off work at the Boeing plant, where he has been employed for 15 years.
Even before toothpaste could clog an airport security line and a full tank of gas was considered an indulgence, Americans had begun to sour on the traditional summer vacation. But this summer, a number of surveys show that U.S. workers, who already take fewer vacations than people in nearly all industrial nations, have pruned their leisure days even more.
The Conference Board, a private research group, found that at the start of the summer, 40 percent of consumers had no plans to take a vacation in the next six months, the lowest percentage recorded by the group in 28 years.
A survey by the Gallup Organization in May based on telephone interviews with a national sample of 1,003 adults found that 43 percent of respondents had no summer-vacation plans.
About 25 percent of U.S. workers in the private sector do not get any paid vacation time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. An additional 33 percent will take only a seven-day vacation, including a weekend.
"The idea of somebody going away for two weeks is really becoming a thing of the past," said Mike Pina, a spokesman for AAA. "It's kind of sad, really, that people can't seem to leave their jobs anymore."
Shrinking-vacation syndrome has gotten so bad that at least one major U.S. company, the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, has taken to closing its entire national operation twice a year to ensure that people stop working: for about 10 days over Christmas and five days or so around the Fourth of July.
"We aren't doing this to push people out the door," said Barbara Kraft, a partner in the human-resources office. "But we wanted to create an environment where people could walk away and not worry about missing a meeting, a conference call or 300 e-mails."
The company tracks vacation time so that when employees fall behind, they are reminded through an electronic nag that they should be getting out of the office more. And posters evoking lazy days away from work were put up in the New York offices. Hint. Hint.
"I thought I would take at least five days off and go somewhere, but I couldn't find the time," said Tina Yang, who teaches first grade at Fruit Ridge Elementary School in Sacramento. She has the summers off, but her days are filled with catchup work, conferences and projects, she said.
"I realize I just go to work and then home, work and then home; it's no way to live," Yang said.
The Travel Industry Association, the largest trade group representing the industry, found that the average American expects his or her longest summer trip to last six nights. And it takes three days just to begin to unwind, experts say.
Company leaders at PricewaterhouseCoopers said they started their nationwide shutdown because people were not getting their batteries recharged.
"It has taught our people what it is like to have unencumbered time," Kraft said.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company