A press release from Expedia (aimed at drumming up vacation business) details a survey showing that Americans take the least vacation time among six industrialized countries. It will surely find its way into many newspapers and newscasts over the next 24 hours. A journalist following its lead will likely present a story that concludes Americans are overworked by their employers — an oft-repeated viewpoint that fits neatly into the “America Sucks” frame.
But an enterprising reporter could choose to dig a little deeper and find a new angle. Here’s a table to illustrate my point:
|Vacation Days||Unemployment Rate|
|12 days||5.2 percent|
|Canada||20 days||6.8 percent|
|U.K.||23 days||4.7 percent|
|Netherlands||25 days||7 percent|
|Germany||27 days||11.8 percent|
|France||39 days||10 percent|
Clearly, one can’t read too much into these numbers. The British, for example, receive more vacation days than Americans and also enjoy a lower unemployment rate. But, the two countries with the largest allotment of vacation time (Germany and France) also share the highest unemployment. Paid vacations are great there, if you can first secure the paying job.
This comparison needn’t be in the lede or anywhere close to the top of the story. But, at some point, a reporter would do well to point out to readers (or find a source to point it out) that companies and countries with exorbitantly generous benefits often fail to compete on the global scale. (See Ford and GM.)
Maybe Americans don’t take enough time off, but perhaps other countries grant too much time for vacation. Presenting both sides of this issue would serve readers well and illustrate that bugaboo of our profession — objective journalism. Unfortunately, I suspect that few of my colleagues would agree.