Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Sept. 4, 2003 / 7 Elul, 5763

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

All work and no play | If you think it's just foreign policy that separates America from Europe, reflect for a moment on your summer. More than likely, you were at work for most of the past three months while most of Europe seems to have hung up a "Gone Fishing!" sign. The numbers support the perception. If you include vacations and public holidays, Europeans take off about six to seven weeks a year. Americans average about 10.2 days of vacation each year plus public holidays.

Do the Europeans, mirabile dictu, have it right? Not exactly. In Europe, leisure is a matter for law. The European Union has just mandated a minimum of four weeks vacation for all member countries. In the United States, there is no law like that. Would you like Washington to lay down the law on vacations?

It is hardly thinkable. It seems to me that our freely expressed choices have defined a pattern very different from that of Europe, one not amenable to generalized rules. Europeans tend to take longer vacations, but over 60 percent of Americans prefer shorter trips.

The average American spends only 4.3 nights of vacation away from home, down from six nights about 25 years ago. Microvacations are all the rage, ranging from a few hours at a spa to a weekend jaunt. Weekend trips compose more than half our leisure travel. Of course, there are practical reasons for the difference. More continental Europeans than Americans live in cramped flats, so they want to get out, while more Americans tend to own their own homes with backyards and are less inclined to leave. Second, we have a much higher proportion of families where both spouses work, so it's not easy to organize private time for a long family vacation beyond much more than a week or two, especially when you factor in schools, summer camps, and the like. And third, Americans tend to work longer hours because, by and large, they enjoy it while many Europeans do not. Roughly 85 percent of Americans are "broadly satisfied with their jobs," a much higher proportion than in Europe.

Donate to JWR

So it's no wonder Europeans want all the time off they can get; and European labor unions push for more time off while American unions push for more money. We value more money and more stuff; they value more leisure time.

We have become the developed world's leaders in nonstop work. It is not called the "American work ethic" for nothing. We not only work about 50 weeks a year; the average American works nearly 2,000 hours a year. Remember those hard-working Germans? They put in about 1,500 hours a year--a difference of almost three months of 40-hour workweeks. About 40 percent of Americans put in 50-hour workweeks. We even work about three weeks more a year than the Japanese.

Why do we put up with more limited vacation time than any other wealthy nation? Because we define ourselves more by our work. "Workaholic" in America is often a compliment. A "working vacation" is not an oxymoron. It is not an accident that Americans will sing a song like "I've been working on the railroad" while the French will sing, "We have joy, we have fun, we have seasons in the sun."

It all comes down to what people feel is important and how they feel about their lives. Europe has a top-down class structure where people, by and large, are expected to know their place and most believe, even now, that there simply won't be much in the way of upward mobility. Inheritance and class in Europe remain more relevant than achievement and education. The first question most people in America will ask a stranger is, "What do you do?" In much of Europe, this is considered inappropriate. We are proud of being busy--it is a virtue; being idle is perceived as a vice.

Overhauling overtime. What American law tends to set is pay, and here we are now confronted with a test of our sense of equity. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 set the workweek at a maximum of 40 hours a week for regular pay and established a two-tiered pay system in America, separating hourly from salaried workers. Hourly workers receive time-and-a-half when they put in more than 40 hours. Salaried workers such as executive, administrative, professional, and technical people can face limitless workweeks without overtime. Even certain lowly paid salaried workers are excluded from overtime if they earn more than $8,000 a year.

The Labor Department is now proposing to change the criteria for overtime so that the cutoff point for overtime for these workers is raised from $8,000 to $22,100 a year. This will add 1.3 million to the ranks eligible for overtime, while the new rules would exclude an estimated 640,000 white-collar workers from receiving overtime pay.

I would think that reflected a fair sense of priorities. But what do work-happy Americans think?

Every weekday publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


10/29/03: Graffiti On History's Walls 08/29/03: Facing the other threat among us
07/23/03: Making odds on a recovery
07/15/03: A Kremlin conversation
06/10/03: Welcome to Sue City, U.S.A.
05/05/03: America's next critical test
04/22/03: The challenge of success
04/15/03: Shape up or step aside
04/08/03: The latest in reality TV is
04/02/03: Chirac and Saddam's thugs are two of a kind
03/26/03: War by new rules
03/05/03: The high price of waiting
02/14/03: Needed: fast fiscal action
02/03/03: Clear and compelling proof
01/24/03: Midnight for Baghdad
01/14/03: They should have said...
12/24/02: Who finances the fanatics?
12/19/02: Put-up or shut-up time
12/09/02: Sheep, wolves, and reality
11/21/02: Curing the uncommon cold
11/12/02: Everybody has the right to be wrong but the Dems have been abusing the privilege
11/05/02: Force vs. fanaticism
10/30/02: Land of the sinking sun
10/22/02: No more cat and mouse
10/15/02: And pigs will fly
10/07/02: A shameful contagion
09/26/02: Calling a madman's number
09/23/02: Our rainbow underclass
09/13/02: Why America must act
09/04/02: After bubbles, a double dip?
08/20/02: No time for equivocation
08/06/02: No time for politics
07/30/02: Getting off the dime
07/17/02: What scandal cannot dim
06/18/02: Time to crack down: Where is the outrage?
06/05/02: The next new thing
04/30/02: Roller-coaster nation
04/25/02: A critical tipping point
04/15/02: Israel's endgame will impact the free world
03/21/02: In the face of pure evil
03/14/02: A man on a mission
03/07/02: Land of the Sinking Sun
02/12/02: Speaking truth about energy
01/15/02: Putting our house in order
01/12/02: Talking points for 2002
12/24/01: The shape of things to come
12/11/01: Finally, a clarity of vision
12/04/01: Apocalypse now
11/26/01: The Big Apple's core
11/06/01: What it will take to win
10/22/01: Getting the mayor's message
10/08/01: A remedy for repair
10/01/01: A question of priorities
09/26/01: Our mission, our moment
09/11/01: Running the asylum
08/29/01: Hail, brave consumer
06/14/01: Blackouts --- or blackmail?
06/01/01: A time to reap --- and sow
05/25/01: A question of confidence
05/18/01: A question of confidence
05/04/01: Making the grade
04/26/01: The caribou conundrum
04/19/01: Chinese boomerang
03/27/01: The man of the moment
03/20/01: The Fed must be bold
03/15/01: Japan on the brink
03/01/01: Rethinking the next war
02/09/01: The education paradox
01/08/01: How the bottom fell out
01/03/01: Quipping in the new year
12/20/00: A time for healing
11/13/00: The need for legitimacy
10/30/00: Arafat's bloody cynicism
10/18/00: Arafat torches peace
10/03/00: A great step backward
09/08/00: The Perfect Storm
08/29/00: Don't blow the surplus
08/15/00: Voting for grown-ups
08/01/00: Arafat's lack of nerve
07/17/00: Can there be a new peace between old enemies? Or will new enemies regress to an old state of war?
07/11/00: A time to celebrate
06/19/00: A bit of straight talk
06/08/00: Using hate against Israel
05/26/00: Is the Federal Reserve trigger-happy?
04/18/00: Tensions on the 'Net
04/13/00: A paranoid power
03/10/00: Fuel prices in the red zone
02/25/00: Web wake-up call
02/18/00: Back to the future
01/21/00: Whistling while we work
01/11/00: Loose lips, fast quips
12/23/99: The times of our lives
12/14/99: Hey, big spender
11/18/99: Fountain of Youth
11/04/99: An impossible partner
10/14/99: A nation divided
10/05/99: India at center stage
09/21/99: Along with good cops, we need a better probation system
09/08/99: Though plundered and confused, Russia can solve its problems
08/31/99: The military should spend more on forces and less on facilities
08/05/99: Squandering the surplus
07/06/99: More than ever, America's unique promise is a reality
06/24/99: The time has come to hit the brakes on affirmative action
06/15/99: America should take pride in honoring its responsibilities
06/02/99: The Middle Kingdom shows its antagonistic side
05/11/99: Technology's transforming power is giving a lift to everything
05/04/99: The big game gets bigger
04/30/99: On Kosovo, Russia talked loudly and carried a small stick
04/21/99: No time to go wobbly
04/13/99: The Evil of two lessers

© 2001, Mortimer Zuckerman