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As summer winds down to a close, and folks start rushing back to school or work, the memories of their vacations perhaps sustain them when, after Labor Day, the business of fall quickly engulfs them. There’s that Gershwin song from Porgy & Bess, “Summertime and the Living is Easy,” recorded more than 25,000 times with artists as diverse as Ella Fitzgerald and Willie Nelson. There’s that no-caring vibe that so many exude. Summer feels like, “Let’s go out to play.”  Who gets to play?

In the European Union, workers get 20 days a year for vacation. Stores are nearly deserted in Paris this month because people are off! In contrast, the average worker gets just eleven days of vacation in the United States. If they’ve worked in corporate America, the average worker gets just one week and has to work for up to five years before getting even two weeks. Many think educators get the summer off, and some faculty have the summer for research and preparation. But many k-12 teachers are paid so little that summer is the time for them to get their side hustle on. Some are driving for ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft.  Others have lined up consulting, tutoring, or other assignments. The other day, I had a ride with a math teacher who said his salary was too low to sustain his family. During the summer, he puts 12-hour days into ride-sharing. He’s one of the millions who don’t get to come out to play.

Then there are the people who cobble a living working two or three part-time jobs. More than 8 million have multiple jobs. Who knows what kind of juggling they are doing? Do any of their jobs provide them with vacations? When do they unplug? Reflect? Get an opportunity to exhale.

Just like everything else in our society, leisure is unevenly distributed. Those with more means and more access have more opportunities to play. Those who are simply surviving don’t have playtime, reflection time, or other downtime. The European Union edict that everyone, regardless of where they sit on the economic totem pole, gets 20 days a year off is an egalitarian recognition of the human right to leisure. We in the United States are not as far along. Instead of rewarding labor with time off, we exploit workers in as many ways as possible, extracting surplus value from their work. 

A tipping economy is an exploitative economy. In most states, tipped workers earn just a quarter of untipped workers. It is expected that they’ll make their low pay up with their tips, and many do. But tips are discretionary and depend on rapport and other intangibles. In the race/gender matrix, will a white man be more generously tipped than a Black woman? And why must servers wear a mask to make a living? 

Those on the bottom distribution of the tipped continuum may be among those who don’t get much leisure time. There is little data on leisure, so most of my thoughts are interpretations and extrapolations. But as I listen to people wax rhapsodic about their vacations, their “happy places,” the wind and the sun and the beaches, I can’t help but think of those who don’t get time to enjoy wind, sun, and beach.

Summer is a time when many come out to play. What happens to those who don’t have that opportunity? Do they live in Langston Hughes’ dream deferred? Do they dry up like a raisin in the sun, fester like a sore, and then run? Do they sag like a heavy load? Do they explode? Workers are exploding, striking, and demanding, and it’s about time.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is an economist, author and Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at California State University at Los Angeles (

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