Nationwide Lifeguard Shortage Prompts Closures and Delays

Up to half of the nation's pools could be affected by the labor shortage
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted May 30, 2022 4:45 PM CDT
Experts: Nationwide Lifeguard Shortage Could Be Deadly
   (Getty Images/marieclaudelemay)

Just in time for summer, there’s a nationwide shortage of lifeguards. The problem could affect up to half of America’s roughly 300,000 public swimming pools, not to mention beaches, per CNN, citing estimates from the American Lifeguard Association. Across the country, would-be swimmers are already finding delayed openings, reduced hours, outright closures, and “swim at your own risk” conditions at many public swimming holes. Austin has about 30% of the 750 lifeguards it needs, meaning half the sweltering city's pools will not be open in early June. Milwaukee has just 56 out of 300. Examples abound in cities from coast to coast.

It's not necessarily a new problem in the lifeguarding industry, which has faced declining numbers for years. It's a seasonal job with high training costs and low pay, it's often boring, and the public is often indifferent if not hostile. Labor shortages in other industries are adding pressure as young people opt for higher pay in restaurants and retail. Furthermore, for two years the pandemic forced hiring freezes and limits on the number of trainees allowed in classrooms, also disrupting the lifeguard workforce and pushing more young people away from the job. Per Fox Weather, some industry experts also blame the pandemic-related travel restrictions and the suspension of J-1 exchange visas, which helped fill seasonal ranks in years past.

Experts fear the shortage could have deadly consequences. For one, lifeguards often serve as swimming instructors, and last summer's hiring freezes meant fewer swimming lessons were offered in many areas. So, there could be a lot more inexperienced swimmers splashing around out there with fewer eyes to watch over them. According to the CDC, "drowning can happen in seconds and is often silent." It kills nearly 4,000 people each year in the US and is the leading cause of injury death for children ages 1 to 4; proper supervision is important in preventing drowning. (More lifeguard stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.