September 26, 2015 – By Brian O'Connell
One ironclad rule among the Great American Middle Class is everyone gets a good vacation or two every year. Your parents had them, your grandparents had them and you should be able to shed all that workplace baggage and have a good trip, too, right?
According to American Consumer Credit Counseling, 85% of Americans surveyed in August say they “could not take a vacation, because they either needed to use the money for bills or other expenses, didn’t have enough money saved or couldn’t take time off.” Money may be the biggest obstacle. The ACCC reports that while 74% of U.S. workers have received a raise within the last three years, 31% only saw a raise of 1% – hardly enough to beat inflation.
Additionally, only 10% of workplace professionals earned a raise of 5% or more. And, even with a raise, only 1% of workers surveyed say the money will go toward a vacation (most say they will use the raise to pay off debt, the ACCC reports.)
Add it all up, and it’s apparent Americans just don’t have the cash for that trip to Belize.
“This survey highlights an ongoing problem with stagnating wages and the inability of many Americans to afford basic expenses,” said Steve Trumble, CEO at the Newton, Ma.-based ACCC. “Despite the improving economy, the majority of those polled have received little in the way of pay increases. In addition, they do not spend enough time on vacation because they simply can’t afford it.”
That doesn’t mean U.S. workers like the new vacation reality – far from it.
“By the time my father retired in 1980, he had six weeks paid vacation, and he took every day of it,” says Kara Neely, an associate creative director at Calise Partners in Dallas. “Holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas were on top of that.”
Neely says her biggest challenge is paying for a decent trip out of town. “Vacations can be very expensive,” she says. “I priced Disney cruises last week, and the cheapest are over $5,000 by the time you add in airfare for four and a hotel the night before and after the trip. They easily go to $7,000, $8,000, and up. Add in decreased time off or today’s workers and it’s difficult.”
Another factor in play is increased competition in the workplace, which keeps more workers anchored to their desks. “People don’t take vacation, because they live in fear and lack self-confidence,” notes Jill Christensen, a workplace expert. “They think they have to keep up with their coworkers, so they don’t think they can afford to be away from the office for a week.”
Professional managers, especially, don’t take vacation, because they don’t want to return to an enormous workload, Christensen adds. “However, a manager needs to do is delegate someone to do the work in their absence,” she says. “And no, it’s not a burden. The team member doing the extra work will feel entrusted with the organization and see it as a vote of confidence.”
Others say the decrease in vacations is just another facet of the “new normal.”
“The Great American Vacation hasn’t gone by the wayside, it has merely returned to normal,” says Dan Blacharski, spokesperson for MoneyLend.net. “As someone who grew up in a middle-class/working-class home in the ’60s, the pattern in my own neighborhood was a ‘big’ vacation once only every several years, with a smaller and more affordable trip to a nearby destination every summer.”
The expectation of a major destination vacation every year is relatively new for the middle class, Blacharski adds. “We nostalgically want what our middle-class parents and grandparents had, but when we look at the reality, they didn’t have that much compared to the middle-class that came of age today,” he says. “Now, families are looking less towards that cross-country trip or European tour, and planning lower-cost regional vacations, day trips and ‘stay-cations’ that are a little easier on the budget.
Wherever you fall on the vacation issue, and let’s hope it really is Belize, study after study shows getting away from the workplace is good for the soul.
So put some money away ahead of time (think of it as a down payment on stress relief) and make plans to get away – just like your parents and grandparents did.