May 18, 2022 - News

Lifeguard shortage delays Austin pool openings

Lifeguard trainees jump into water to practice rescues during a lifeguard class at a pool in Austin.
Lifeguard trainees jumped into Big Stacy Pool to practice their rescues during a lifeguard class Tuesday evening. Photo: Asher Price/Axios

Austin public pools that closed during the offseason will open later than normal this summer because of a lifeguard shortage — and some could remain shuttered indefinitely.

Why it matters: Swimming pools are a critical redoubt from the heat.

  • It's only May and we've already seen record-breaking temps.

Flashback: City officials have been warning for months about how a tight labor market and the pandemic combined for a lifeguard shortage.

Now, some neighborhood pools that normally open in May won't do so until June 6 — assuming Austin recruits and hires enough lifeguards.

By the numbers: Austin has a little over 200 lifeguards ready to work — and 500 applicants so far, aquatics division manager Jodi Jay told Axios.

  • "To open our system fully we need 750 lifeguards."

Yes, but: "The obstacle every year around this time is getting over the end of school. We just had prom this weekend, and kiddos are finishing their semester. We're certain we will have an uptick," Jay said.

  • If they can get to 400 lifeguards, they can start opening some neighborhood pools, prioritizing those that offer swim lessons and swim team practices.

The impact: The city is short about 200 lifeguards from what they normally have at this point in mid-May.

  • If the shortage persists, Jay said, "you might see open pools not fully open."
  • At Bartholomew Pool, for example, in northeast Austin, "we may not have enough lifeguards to open slides and the activity pool," she said.

Between the lines: The city is competing in a brutal labor market for workers.

  • Pay ranges from $16 to $19 per hour, and bonuses for the summer can reach $1,250.

Zoom out: For similar reasons, cities across the country are also facing lifeguard shortages.

The bottom line: Summer will feel a lot hotter without more lifeguards perched above Austin pools.

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