Lifeguard Shortage Could Shut Down A Third Of Public Pools in U.S.

As the weather begins warming up and people turn to the outdoors once again, it may be disappointing to find out that at least one-third of public pools in the U.S. risk being shut down or changing hours to accommodate this summer's imminent staff shortages, says the American Lifeguard Association (ALA). Now, they're looking at a new demographic to fill the spots.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced staff shortages in several industries, including teachers and restaurant workers, but a shortage of lifeguards will soon be forcing public pools around the country to change their schedules or shut down completely.

"Regretfully, it's probably going to be the worst summer," ALA Director Bernard Fisher told Newsweek. "We have 309,000 public pools in the U.S. but we don't have the youth in the ratio to the population."

Fisher stated that even before the pandemic began in 2020, pools in the U.S. were relying heavily on foreigners with J1 visas for their lifeguards. He said that using the exchange visitor visas, the AMA "brought tens of thousands of lifeguards over every summer to help fill the positions that we needed."

But during the pandemic, those visas were temporarily suspended, and Fisher stated that pools then were also relying too much on American youth, according to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

"We're going to get the facilities open but we won't have the staff to do the rotation, or we won't have the staff we'd like to see. Some of these kids haven't been in the water in 2 years," Fisher said. "Not only do we have a lifeguard shortage, but now we don't have enough kids who know how to swim, who can't become lifeguards in 5 to 10 years."

While the spring is usually the time to train lifeguards in preparation for summer, public pools in several states have already announced a change of pool hours or closure due to the shortage.

"We are seeing the same thing everyone else is seeing," said Aaron Levine, who is the aquatics supervisor for Austin, Texas, Parks and Recreation, to KXAN. "We cannot and will not operate a pool without lifeguards."

And some can only operate a few days a week to accommodate their staff. "More and more cities [are] actually coming out right now and saying they're only opening half their pools," said Fisher.

Indeed, another public pool in Austin announced they would only be opening twice a week this summer instead of keeping the usual hours until they can find enough staff.

And a public pool in Grand Rapids, Nebraska, lowered its lifeguard age requirement in an attempt to address the shortage issue, now stating that teens as young as 15 are able to become certified lifeguards, KLKN reported.

Fisher stated that the solution to the lifeguard shortage, while a long-term plan, would be to target recent retirees who swim for exercise and train them to be lifeguards as well.

"The solution is tapping the retirees, and just getting the word out," Fisher said. "It's a ten-year plan that we need, it's not going to be a short fix." But, he said, "There are opportunities, we need to target retirees."

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Lifeguards face a shortage this year as the American Lifeguard Association warns that one-third of public pools in the U.S. could face closures this summer. In this photo, a lifeguard watches as people cool off in a public swimming pool on June 29, 2021, in the Astoria neighborhood of the Queens borough in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images