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The United States’ no-vacation nation problem was slightly softened last year: The average American took 16.8 vacation days in 2016 compared to 16 days in 2014, a 5 percent increase.

But vacation benefits and actual workplace cultures around paid time off are often a horse of a different color, and a new survey from a vacation research organization show that U.S. cities and states with the worst vacation track records also have many employers who don’t like giving their workers vacation time.

That’s according to U.S. Travel’s Project: Time Off coalition, which found that in 2016, 662 million vacation days were left on the table.

Many of the vacation days left unused can’t be rolled over each year — and that costs a pretty penny. The time that cannot be rolled over, banked or paid out is down eight percent from 2015 to 206 million forfeited days.

Last year, United States employees gave up $66.4 billion in lost vacation benefits, about $604 on average per employee.

But if those vacation days had been used, they would have helped generate $128 billion in direct spending and an overall economic impact of $236 billion for the U.S. economy, according to Project: Time Off.

The group worked with market research organization GfK to conduct an online survey of more than 7,300 U.S. workers from January 26-February 20, 2017. Respondents were ages 18 and older and worked more than 35 hours a week
and received paid time off from their employer.

Data represent all 50 U.S. states and the 30 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the country.

The U.S. isn’t the only country with an increasingly prevalent round-the-clock work culture, but with dozens of different labor laws across the nation, for example, it lacks uniform vacation policies compared to other countries.

“Across America, vacation has become the unintended victim of a 24/7 work culture, but there are specific parts of the country living on the edge of burnout where employees particularly need to take time off,” said Katie Denis, senior director of Project: Time Off, in a statement.

Some 17 percent of all respondents said their company sends negative or mixed messages about taking a vacation. “The states and cities that have the dubious honor of being at the top of the unused vacation list would do well to realize that employees who take time off are happier, healthier, and more productive,” said Denis.

The top 10 states with the most unused vacation days in 2016, based on how much vacation time respondents left unused, have rural populations and are mostly plains states, such as Idaho, Wyoming and Nebraska (see chart below).

Top 10 U.S. States With Highest Percentages of Unused Vacation Days in 2016

RankStatePercent of Unused Vacation Days
2New Hampshire77%
4South Dakota73%

States with the fewest unused vacation days are more spread out, but four states are in the U.S. south and two states, Michigan and Wisconsin, are in the Midwest/Great Lakes region.

Still, these particular states shouldn’t be applauded as their percentage of unused vacation days are near 50 percent in some cases.

“The places where employees use the most vacation tend to have work cultures that encourage time off, enjoy lower fear and anxiety about being away, and are less susceptible to the stress and pressures of being away,” Denis said.

Top 10 U.S. States With Fewest Unused Vacation Days in 2016

RankStatePercent of Used Vacation Days

On the city level, Washington, D.C. tops the list leaving 64 percent (17.3 million) of unused vacation time or $3.8 billion on the table. Most of Washington’s workforce is in government, an industry which typically has more-generous-than-average vacation rollover policies.

Some 37 percent of government workers in the survey said they can roll over 21 or more vacation days each year, while 38 percent of overall respondents said they can roll over one to five days a year and only 16 percent said they can roll over more than 21 days.

Salaried workers are more likely than those paid an hourly wage to leave vacation time on the table (57 percent to 49 percent), the survey found. Washington and Boston, two cities in the top 10 list of most unused vacation days, have the highest percentage of salaried workers of all the cities that are part of the survey (79 percent and 77 percent, respectively).

Los Angeles’ direct spending potential from its unused vacation days, or the amount of money that Project: Time Off projects travelers would spend had they taken those vacation days, is the highest for any U.S. city at $6.4 billion.

New York City, the most populated U.S. city, had the highest number of unused vacation days (37.5 million).

Top 10 U.S. Cities Using the Fewest Vacation Days in 2016

RankCityPercent Leaving Unused Vacation TimeVacation Days Left UnusedDirect Spending Potential of Unused Vacation Days
1Washington, D.C.64%17.3 million$3.8 billion
2San Francisco-Oakland, California64%12.8 million$3.1 billion
3Tampa, Florida62%5.1 million$1.2 billion
4Los Angeles, California62%32.5 million$6.4 billion
5Boston, Massachusetts61%11.6 million$2.4 billion
6Denver, Colorado60%6.7 million$1.3 billion
7Riverside-San Bernardino, California59%7.7 million$1.3 billion
8Portland, Oregon58%5.4 million$756 million
9San Antonio, Texas58%5.7 million$1.1 billion
10Las Vegas, Nevada58%5.4 million$4.6 billion

Some 43 percent of respondents said the top challenge to taking time off is the mountain of work they return to. But of the top five cities using the most vacation time (see chart below), respondents from all five said they were less intimidated by their workload —Pittsburgh at 37 percent, Chicago at 40 percent, Phoenix at 38 percent, Orlando at 37 percent, and Miami at 40 percent.

Top 10 U.S. Cities Using the Most Vacation Days in 2016

RankCityPercent Leaving Unused Vacation Time
1Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania40%
2Chicago, Illinois44%
3Phoenix, Arizona44%
4Orlando, Florida45%
5Miami, Florida45%
6Kansas City, Missouri48%
7Charlotte, North Carolina48%
8Atlanta, Georgia49%
9San Diego, California50%
10Detroit, Michigan51%

The U.S. vacation picture remains flawed from coast to coast, but it’s clear that the problem is most acute in the plains states and in west coast cities.

The big blow to many travel brands is likely seeing that large markets on the east and west coast — where much of their marketing and advertising efforts are concentrated and where most business comes from — aren’t taking all of their precious days and leaving valuable dollars on the table rather than spending on hotels, airlines, resorts, or restaurants.

Source: Project: Time Off/U.S. Travel

Photo Credit: Washington, D.C. was the top city in the country for most unused vacation days in 2016. Pictured is a tourist taking a photo of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. Mike Boening Photography / Flickr