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Americans Would Rather Work for Free Than Travel

Last year, American workers declined to take advantage of 169 million days of paid vacation time, foregoing $52.4 billion in salary and benefits.

That’s the key finding in the U.S. Travel Association’s “All Work and No Pay: The Impact of Forfeited Time Off” study, released this week.

In 2013, workers averaged 16 days of vacation, the fewest days in almost four decades. The decline has been particularly precipitous since 2000, when vacation days decreased by almost a full week.

That, the study warns, is not only bad for the mental and physical health of America’s “work martyrs,” it’s also a drag on the economy.

If Americans were to revert to their pre-2000 vacation average of 20.3 days per year, it would drive a $284 billion increase in economic activity, including $118 billion in direct spending on travel.

It would seem, then, that upping vacation time would be a win-win. What’s holding us back?

The study alludes to the Work Martyr Complex as the primary psychological factor underlying American’s ambivalence toward paid time off. No doubt that’s a contributing factor. But as analyses go, it feels like a pretty shallow dive.

The USTA is, of course, in the business of promoting travel. So it’s no surprise that the study and its results are presented as an argument in favor of traveling more, not less.

Nor is it any surprise that the USTA fails to consider another possible reason for the falloff in interest in getting away: the sorry state of travel. Compared to a five-hour ordeal sitting in a crusher coach seat on a fully packed plane, a day behind your desk at the office looks pretty good.

Reader Reality Check

What keeps you from using all your annual vacation days?

This article originally appeared on

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