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We tend to focus on the personal benefits of using our paid vacation days – and understandably so! Taking time off can help you relax, recharge, and get out of your day-to-day routine. But, larger trends in how the American workforce as a whole uses, or doesn’t use, earned vacation days can have a major impact on the U.S. economy.

Based on research conducted by Project Time Off, employees are just starting to turn a corner when it comes to taking advantage of their paid vacation days. For more than a decade, we’ve been in a downward trend – employees were taking fewer and fewer days off. But, this has started to turn around and taking vacation is now on the rise. Last year, the average employee used 16.8 vacation days, compared to 16.2 days the year before.

Even though we’re moving in a positive direction, we’re far from our long-term average of 20.3 vacation days taken per employee annually from 1976 to 2000.

While this may seem like only a few days difference – a few days can become very significant when we’re in the context of the entire US workforce, estimated at 150 million people and rising.

So, let’s take a look at the numbers to understand how big this impact can really be. In 2016, employees earned an average of 22.6 vacation days (almost a full day more than they did a year prior) and used 16.8 days per worker on average.

The employees who did leave unused vacation days left 662 million vacation days unused, which cost the US economy an estimated $236 billion in 2016. When employees take advantage of their earned vacation days their spending (on travel, dinner, entertainment, etc.) can be a significant stimulant to the US economy. This lost spending could have supported 1.8 million American jobs, generated $70 billion in additional income for American workers, and driven $33 billion dollars in economic impact.

In contrast, those who did use their vacation days helped to deliver a $37 billion impact to the U.S. economy, produced an estimated 278,000 direct and indirect jobs, and generated $11 billion in additional income for employees.

Of course there are a multitude of facts that can influence how many vacation days each individual chooses to take. (The amount of vacation days offered can certainly impact how many an employee chooses to take!) But, generally speaking, the research shows that more than half of working Americans are forfeiting well-deserved vacation time that is offered to them, and thereby missing an opportunity to stimulate the U.S. economy and enjoy a break from work.

If you’re interested in taking vacation merely for the interests of yourself and your family – there’s no harm in that. Take the rest as food for thought!

Do you ever think of how your career and financial choices can have a larger impact? How often are your personal choices influenced by a broader perspective? We want to know what you think in the comments below!