Jun 7, 2022 - News

Lifeguard shortage squeezes Philadelphia pools

Illustration of "Help Wanted" written at the bottom of a pool.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Philadelphia has fallen short of hiring the 350-400 lifeguards the city needs to open all of its outdoor public pools this summer.

Driving the news: At least 294 lifeguards β€” ranging in age between 16 and 76 β€” are registered to work for the city Parks and Recreation Department this summer, as of Friday's deadline, department spokesperson Maita Soukup told Axios.

  • That's more than 80% of the staff needed to open all 65 available pools.

State of play: Soukup declined to say Monday which pools will open this year.

  • The city will consider a number of factors in making that decision, including neighborhood need, past pool usage, proximity to other cooling options, and geography.
  • "We're going to look at the staff that we have over the next month and make those decisions with an aim to provide access to as many locations as possible," Soukup said.

The big picture: The city boosted wages for lifeguards to $16-$18 an hour to stay competitive among higher-paying businesses during a nationwide labor shortage.

  • The guard shortage, in particular, could prevent about a third of more than 300,000 public pools across the country from opening this summer, per the American Lifeguard Association, Axios' Erin Doherty reports.

Flashback: Last summer, the city had 224 lifeguards and opened only 42 pools.

  • Philly pools didn't open at all in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Of note: Five of the city's 70 outdoor pools are closed this summer for renovations or maintenance β€”Β Vare, Heitzman, Chew, Shuler, and Kingsessing.

  • The city also will operate the indoor pool at Lincoln High School this summer.

What they're saying: Soukup said she believed the pay boost helped attract more applicants.

  • But she blamed the national lifeguard shortage over the past decade, as well as the pandemic, among other things, for hurting staffing levels.
  • "Now we're having trouble across the board with staffing. It's not just lifeguards. It's all summer jobs: camp counselors, camp maintenance folks," she said.

What's next: The Lederer Pool at the Fishtown Recreation Center will be the first city pool to open on June 21.

  • The city will provide a full pool opening schedule by the end of the month.
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