WHO NEEDS A VACATION? Not the American people, apparently. Sustained time off of work is increasingly becoming a quirky memory, one of those strange traditions practiced by our superstitious ancestors:

The Conference Board, a private research group, found that at the start of the summer, 40 percent of consumers had no plans to take a vacation over the next six months � the lowest percentage recorded by the group in 28 years. A survey by the Gallup Organization in May based on telephone interviews with a national sample of 1,003 adults found that 43 percent of respondents had no summer vacation plans.

About 25 percent of American workers in the private sector do not get any paid vacation time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Another 33 percent will take only a seven-day vacation, including a weekend.

That's a shame for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that vacation time carries substantial health benefits for workers. I've long believed that Democrats could make significant headway by pushing for a serious increase in mandatory vacation time (not to mention paid sick and maternity leave) for workers. Say, three or four weeks.

The problem is the culture has begun to swing against actually taking vacation. PricewaterhouseCoopers apparently closes their office for a few weeks each year so workers have to take time off work. But for those who don't toil beneath such enlightened employers, the choices are trickier. You may have two weeks of vacation a year, but if your colleagues and competitors aren't using their days, the stigma and fear of using yours and being judged insufficiently committed to the cause can be pretty overpowering. Even if you did create mandatory vacation time, you couldn't make anyone take it, and in certain competitive industries, just about no one would. Big government liberal though I am, I've no neat ideas for disrupting that race to a heart attack, but for all the other workers who see a proper work-life balance as important and occupational advancement as unaffected by it, instituting mandatory vacation time would be a real blessing. In a country where so many of us live thousands of miles from our families, ten days of vacation lets us see our parents for one week twice a year -- forget taking an actual vacation in addition. As a society, we can, and should, do better.

--Ezra Klein