Under-Vacationed America: An Analysis of the States and Cities That Need to Take a Day

Introduction

Americans are taking more vacation. Last year, vacation usage rose to an average of 16.8 days, the second year of growth after bottoming out in 2014 at 16.0 days.

Despite the improvement over the last two years, there are still 54 percent of Americans who did not use all their vacation time last year. These workers left a collective 662 million vacation days on the table—days that carry significant economic potential. If Americans were to use that vacation time, it would generate $128 billion in direct spending, and an overall economic impact of $236 billion for the U.S. economy.  

Breaking down the vacation picture in America reveals profound geographical differences—some encouraging and some deeply worrisome—in workers’ vacation perceptions and behavior.

Methodology

GfK conducted an online survey from January 26-February 20, 2017 with 7,331 American workers, age 18+, who work more than 35 hours a week and receive paid time off from their employer. These data were weighted and scaled. The geographic data below represents all 50 U.S. states and the 30-largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) in the country, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Oxford Economics projected total unused paid time off using Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) employment data, adjusted by the share receiving paid time off. The potential economic impact for the states and cities was developed using a per diem spending approach based on data from TNS, the U.S. Travel Association, and the BEA Travel and Tourism Satellite Accounts.

The No Vacation States

Idaho tops the list with 78 percent of its workers leaving vacation time unused in 2016, far outpacing the national average of 54 percent. When it comes to time off, Idahoan workers are particularly challenged by concerns that they have to show complete dedication to their job (36% to 26% overall), feel their company culture does not promote time off (27% to 20%), and worry that they would appear replaceable (28% to 23%).

Workers in New Hampshire—number two on the list—have more acute anxiety about taking vacation. They are far more likely than the average worker to fear what their boss thinks about time off (38% to 18% overall), believe that skipping vacation will make them appear more dedicated (42% to 26%), and worry that getting away will make them appear replaceable  (37% to 23%).

Alaska is the only state that ranked the cost of a vacation as its top barrier, compared to the average American worker who puts it as the number four barrier (51% to 32%). Following cost, Alaskans also fear appearing replaceable (34% to 23%) and worry about what their boss would think (28% to 18%).

South Dakotan workers are the most likely to skip time off due to workload, with 60 percent saying the mountain of work they would return to was a barrier to taking vacation, compared to 43 percent nationally. The Mount Rushmore State’s workers are also the number one state for fearing they would lose consideration for a raise or promotion if they took time off.

States Where Vacation Rules

Maine holds the top spot when it comes to vacation usage, with just 38 percent of its workers leaving time on the table. Overall, Mainers are less affected than the average worker by the barriers to taking time off, particularly the fear that they would lose consideration for a raise or promotion (11% to 21%) and also report better vacation cultures at their companies.

Working and living in a bucket list destination has its rewards as Hawaii’s workers come in a close second, with 39 percent leaving vacation time unused. Only six percent of Aloha State workers said their company culture did not promote time off, compared to 20 percent of workers nationally.

Work stress is much lower than average for workers in some of the top states for vacation usage. Arkansas, Hawaii, and Arizona are among the five-lowest states for work stress and appear at the top of the list for the least amount of vacation left unused. Compared to 70 percent nationally, 56 percent of Arkansas’ workers, 59 percent of Hawaii’s workers, and 61 percent of Arizona’s workers report experiencing work stress.

The No Vacation Cities

Washington, D.C. tops this year’s list, despite being less challenged by many of the barriers to taking time off. The nation’s capital is home to far more government workers than average (40% to 13%), and government workers are more likely to leave vacation time unused. With 63 percent of government workers leaving time on the table, it is the second-worst industry at using time off, just after education (65%). Government workers have more generous vacation rollover policies than average. Nearly four-in-ten (37%) government workers say they can roll over 21 or more days of vacation. Most U.S. workers who can roll over time are limited to one to five days a year (38%); just 16 percent can roll over 21 or more days.

Despite the Golden State moniker, three California metro areas are included in the top ten cities for unused vacation. San Francisco is the city most challenged by workload, with 62 percent saying the mountain of work they would return to stopped them from taking time off, 19 percentage points more than average.  Los Angeles workers have greater fear about what their boss would think of them taking time off (27% to 18%).

Riverside-San Bernardino workers are more likely than average to feel that no one else can do the work if they go away (46% to 34%), second only to St. Louis (50%). 

Tampa’s workers are some of the most likely to feel that they cannot afford to take time off: 42 percent of the city’s workers pointed to cost as a barrier, compared to the 32 percent national average. Only Riverside-San Bernardino (46%), San Diego (45%), and Charlotte (42%) said the cost of time off was more of a challenge.

Most Vacationed Cities

Pittsburgh gets the top spot for using the most vacation. Steel City workers are less susceptible to anxiety around taking vacation. They also have below-average work stress, with 63 percent of employees confirming they experience work stress, far below the national average of 70 percent.

In Phoenix, workers are much less likely to feel that skipping vacation makes them appear more dedicated than the average employee (14% to 26%) and they do not worry as much about losing consideration for a raise or promotion (11% to 21%).

Orlando workers enjoy a more positive vacation culture, with 39 percent agreeing their company culture encourages taking time off, compared to 33 percent nationally. The top challenge to taking time off for U.S. workers is the mountain of work they return to (43% agreed), but in several of the cities that leave less vacation time on the table, that challenge is less severe. Of the top five cities using the most vacation time, all five are less subject to the mountain of work—Pittsburgh at 37 percent; Chicago at 40 percent; Phoenix at 38 percent; Orlando at 37 percent; and Miami at 40 percent.