Evan Horowitz

Vacation time? It’s not for everyone.

About three-quarters of workers in the US get paid vacation time. That may sound like a lot, but it’s less than the 100 percent you see in most advanced countries. And for some types of US workers, the numbers are actually much lower.

Percent of workers with paid vacation
Across US74
Service jobs58
Sales and office79
Goods-producing industries89
Firms >100 employees79
Firms <50 employees66
Full time87
Part time34

Source: BLS

Nearly 80 percent of employees at large businesses get vacation time, compared to 66 percent at smaller firms. Service workers are another group less likely to have paid vacation, at just 58 percent.

Perhaps the most dramatic gap is between high-wage and low-wage employees. The more you earn, the more likely you are to get vacation time. Four out of five high-wage workers get paid vacation time. Among low-wage workers, it’s 51 percent.


One reason is that many low-wage employees are also part-time employees, and part-time workers rarely get vacation benefits. But more generally you can think of paid vacation as an extension of salary. Benefits cost businesses money, just like wages do. So if a business is trying to keep costs down by paying low wages, it also needs to minimize the cost of benefits.

Looking at benefits in this way suggests that if the US did guarantee paid vacation, as so many other countries do, it would operate very much like a minimum wage. It would raise overall compensation for low-wage workers and others who lack vacation time. But it would also make it more expensive for business to hire new employees.

Evan Horowitz digs through data to find information that illuminates the policy issues facing Massachusetts and the U.S. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHorowitz