Talking Points

Juneteenth's recognition should inspire Americans to rethink holidays

The United States is set to federally recognize Juneteenth as its first new holiday since 1983 — which is a big deal! It would be an even bigger deal if we were a nation that actually took our public holidays seriously in the first place. 

Since the U.S. doesn't have a statutory minimum of paid public holidays like most of the rest of the world, it will fall on employers to decide whether or not to actually honor America's Second Independence Day. In the U.S., there are only six annual holidays that are "almost universally embraced … as paid holidays," Money writes; roughly 90 percent of employers acknowledge New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. When it comes to "second-tier" holidays like Martin Luther King Day and Veterans Day, though, observance wanes; only about a third of organizations closed for the former holiday in 2014, while just 22 percent shuttered for the latter. 

U.S. employers technically don't have to give their workers any holidays off at all — compared with countries like Australia or Germany, where workers are entitled to a minimum number of paid public holidays in addition to paid annual leave. Just to make you really jealous: Spain and Malta, for example, have 14 such paid public holidays. And they take their time off seriously, too; just ask any American who's ever been baffled by the experience of trying to find a place open for breakfast when their trip unintentionally overlaps with German Unity Day.

The lack of guaranteed holidays in the U.S. particularly affects "low-wage workers, part-time workers, and … employees of small businesses," Forbes points out. Businesses likely aren't inclined to view Juneteenth as a sudden exception either; companies have been finding excuses to scale back paid time off for years. As the Society for Human Resource Management's Lisa Orndorff told Money in 2014, "One thing's pretty certain: Companies won't be adding paid holidays."

And since employers can't be counted on (even when the data shows time off makes happier, more productive employees), the government should step in. It's great that Juneteenth is finally getting its due, but wouldn't it be even better if it wasn't just for the lucky few working for the government or Nike or Target to enjoy?