Less Time in the Sun for You, Bigger Boost for Economy

All work and less play for you may account for some of the unusual prosperity now under way in the American economy.

Vacation changes mean the equivalent of the entire US work force showing up for an extra two days of work ... free.

Workers are taking less vacation, say experts, but companies are also giving, and paying for, less.

Some basics from Primark Decision Economics, a consulting firm in Boston:

* The average US worker earns 11.37 days of paid vacation a year, down from 12.17 days in 1987.

* Private-sector employees must work an average of 23.9 days for each day of paid vacation, up from 22.4 in 1987.

For business, those trends bring a bonus.

Take another look at the Primark numbers. They show 0.8 fewer vacation days allowed for the average worker.

Spread over the entire work force - about 136 million people - that's 108 million fewer vacation days for which business pays the bill.

And workers now spend an extra day and a half on the job for every day they take off. For corporate America, that means an extra 200 million days on the job, at no extra cost.

Much of this stems from a change in status for many workers, says Primark's David Kelly.

While the US economy continues to generate new jobs, US companies continue to downsize.

"Reengineering," the buzz-word of the 1990s, means the average American worker will change jobs about half a dozen times before retirement. Less time with a company means less vacation earned.

And a growing number of contract workers now make up the labor force. Most don't get benefits, which means no paid vacation.

And new companies, says Mr. Kelly, generally offer less generous vacation benefits than older, larger firms.

"It's something of a sign of our workaholic society that people are willing to give up these vacation days," he says.

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