National lifeguard shortage could affect nearly half of public pools in U.S.
by Kris Van Cleave  /  June 8, 2022

“As summer comes closer, cities around the U.S. are facing a labor crisis that will affect a season staple: swimming. The American Lifeguard Association said a national shortage of lifeguards could affect anywhere between one-third to nearly half of all 300,000 public pools in the U.S.

A photo of a closed pool.
“photo of a closed pool”

Jimmy Davis, the director of aquatics for Palm Beach County, Florida, said it’s short about 30% of summer employees. “We’re not going to conduct the number of swim lessons we normally do and that’s going to have a direct affect on our community and could potentially affect the number of drownings we see in our community,” he told CBS News.

He said with the county down 15% of ocean lifeguards, some county beaches will be left unstaffed. “We provide a public service to the community, it’s imperative that we are there,” Davis said. The shortage is also affecting swimmers nationwide. “It’s actually a bit terrifying because I’m a weak swimmer,” a group of beachgoers at Virginia Beach told CBS News.

The city of Boulder, Colorado, launched a “Be a Superhero” campaign to try and woo potential applicants. Austin, Texas, upped the pay for lifeguards and added up to $1,250 in bonuses due to having only about one-third of the lifeguards needed. In Richmond, Virginia, Parks and Recreation will even teach the basics. “We help you learn how to swim. If you need swimwear, we’ll help you get swimwear,” said Jerrod Booker, a recreation services supervisor there.

“Quits as a share of non-farm payroll employment, seasonally adjusted”

The pandemic can be partially credited for the shortage. Lifeguards have to go through certification classes and pay is a big factor – it can range from $10 to $15 an hour in many places, leading some to choose jobs that are better paying and more flexible. Many places also relied on temporary foreign workers to fill the gaps, but those visa programs are still backlogged.”

Trump’s rhetoric on work visas helped trigger the lifeguard shortage
by Rina Torchinsky  /  June 5, 2022

“Shortages of all kinds are commonplace these days. Now, it’s lifeguards who are in short supply. The shortage is affecting about a third of public pools across the country, leading some public pools to reduce hours or close altogether, the American Lifeguard Association says.

And it says the shortage could extend into next year. Pools from Raleigh, to St. Louis, to New Orleans, to Austin are seeing the effects. In Raleigh, half of the city’s pools remain closed, ABC11 reported Friday. The pandemic has taken a toll on the number of lifeguards. It’s meant two years of very little lifeguard training and expiring certifications on top of that, Bernard J. Fisher II, director of health and safety for the lifeguard association, told NPR.

After a lifeguard shortage 20 years ago, which Fisher believes was driven by the development of condos and hotels that needed lifeguards, thousands of people from Eastern Europe came to the U.S. on J-1 visas to fill the lifesaving jobs. The industry came to rely heavily on these visa holders, he said. But the Trump administration sent “shockwaves through that area,” Fisher said. “Just before the pandemic, we really had a problem because we lost the majority of the J-1 visa students, and then of course, the pandemic hit,” Fisher told NPR. “That was the straw in the camel’s back that broke everything down.” In the first months of the pandemic, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation that put a number of work visas on pause, including the J-1. International travel was challenging. And the pools were closed, too. President Biden let the ban on temporary work visas expire.

Still, Fisher says recovering from the shortage will take time. “We will have a lifeguard shortage next year,” he said. “It’s going to take years to get out of this because, you know, the Eastern Europeans situation is not good geographically for candidates to come.” Now, amid the shortage, some communities are asking swim instructors to work as lifeguards instead, Fisher said. Yet, one of the ways to prevent drowning is learning to swim as early as possible, he added.

With fewer lifeguards in the chairs, water safety is especially critical, Fisher said. Fisher emphasized the importance of a designating a water watcher — someone in the group who will keep a close eye on the kids. Children who are novice swimmers should also wear life jackets approved by the U.S. Coast Guard whether they’re at the beach or a community pool, he added. “So many times, groups think that someone else is watching, but in fact, no one’s watching.”



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