Lifeguard shortage leaves many pools, beaches unprotected
— -- A shortage of lifeguards is forcing some U.S. cities to close pools and beaches or shorten hours of operation, and in some cases leave swimming areas unsupervised.
The impact of the shortage can be deadly: 16-year-old Chiccena Carpenter drowned in a Minneapolis lake earlier this month at a beach that was budgeted to have a lifeguard on duty. A lack of qualified applicants left Cedar Point Beach unsupervised, said Dawn Sommers, communications and marketing manager for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
The shortage — which is being felt in cities including Columbus, Ohio; Del Rio, Texas; Tulsa; and Minneapolis — comes, in part, because many high school students spend their summers taking classes or engaging in enrichment activities to prepare for college instead of working, according to Harry Holzer, professor of public policy at Georgetown University.
Unemployment numbers released in May by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that one in four teenagers is actively seeking employment but is unable to get hired. Holzer said many of the kids who are looking for jobs are from low- or middle-income families and do not have the extra cash to spend for certification, so they do not apply for lifeguard positions.
Connie Harvey, manager of the aquatics program at the American Red Cross, says it costs about $350 to take the 25-hour class and get certified as a lifeguard.
In many pools, lifeguards are paid more than the state's minimum wage. Alan McKnight, director of Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, said a lifeguard's salary starts at about $8.50 per hour, which is 80 cents higher than Ohio's minimum wage. Despite that, Columbus experienced a shortage and could open only six of seven pools this month.
•Minneapolis. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board hoped to have 35 lifeguards but had hired only 27 as of Monday.Sommers said she recognizes that lifeguards are drawn to indoor centers that offer year-round employment.
•Tulsa. One of five public pools did not open until June 9, a week later than scheduled, because the pool needed seven more lifeguards, said Bob Hendrick, special events coordinator at Tulsa Parks and Recreation.
•North Carolina. Charlie Peek, spokesman for the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation, said the division tries to schedule lifeguards for weekends and holidays, but many beaches, pools and lakes in the state still go unsupervised.
Jen Grasmeder, a lifeguard at Menlo Aquatics Center in Perkasie, Pa., says some of her friends did not apply for lifeguard positions because their parents wanted them to have year-round jobs.