Both across the country and here in Seattle, pools and beaches are struggling to maintain lifeguard staffing levels. According to Seattle Parks and Recreation Spokesperson Rachel Schulkin, Seattle has only about 200 lifeguards this summer, compared to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels of about 400.
This scarcity has led to the city closing three out of its nine swim beaches: Matthews Beach, East Green Lake Beach and Seward Park Beach. The lifeguard shortage, along with renovations, have also resulted in the closure of the Evans, Queen Anne and Medgar Evers pools. Parks and Recreation says programming at open pools will be limited as well.
Last month, NPR reported that one-third of all U.S. pools will remain closed this summer. According to the article, factors that have led to the national lifeguard shortage include former President Donald Trump’s ban on J-1 student visas, as well as low compensation rates. In June, New York City raised its base compensation rates for lifeguards from $18.15 to $22.00 an hour.
Schulkin said that City of Seattle lifeguards receive a competitive starting salary of roughly $20 an hour. She attributes the shortage to multiple factors, such as the competitive job market and the pandemic at large. Training and recruiting programs were shut down during the pandemic, and pools were closed for over a year, from 2020 to 2021. Many lifeguards had to search for other employment opportunities.
“As our pipeline of lifeguards was shut down during the first two years of the pandemic, we do have a greater shortage of experienced lifeguards,” Schulkin wrote in an email to Real Change.
“These guards are essential to management and leadership positions, and the overall safety of swimmers. Rebuilding that part of the workforce will take time.”
To combat the shortage, Seattle is paying for a whole host of training programs for prospective lifeguards, from introductory swimming lessons to lifeguard certification, in an effort to restart the pipeline to employment. Teens who are interested can visit the Seattle Parks and Recreation website to learn more about the process.
“We’d love community to consider working as a lifeguard,” Schulkin wrote. “It’s a great way to serve your community and a great place to work.”
Guy Oron is the staff reporter for Real Change. Find them on Twitter, @GuyOron.
Read more of the July 20-26, 2022 issue.