Feb 3, 2023 - News

Lifeguard shortage prompts Philadelphia to offer bonuses

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

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Philly lifeguards are in line for a bonus of up to $1,000 this summer.

What’s happening: The perk is one of the city’s latest efforts to recruit enough lifeguards to open its 70 outdoor pools this summer amid a nationwide lifeguard shortage.

  • The city needs upwards of 400 lifeguards to open all its pools.

Why it matters: The shortage has prevented some Philly pools from opening and forced limited hours at others in recent years.

  • Pools provide respite from the heat, which is a concern in the city’s low-income neighborhoods that tend to be hotter due to low tree canopy and a legacy of redlining.
  • Plus: Public pools offer a safe place for young people during summertime spikes in gun violence.

Flashback: The city opened 49 pools last year and recruited 285 lifeguards, Parks and Recreation Department spokesperson Maita Soukup tells Axios.

  • That was a boost from 2021, when only 42 pools were open.

The big picture: The national lifeguard shortage could be even worse this year, Bernard Fisher II, director of health and safety for the American Lifeguard Association, tells Axios.

  • While pools struggle to recruit, the recertification of existing lifeguards — required every two years — could also contribute to a shortage this year.

While Fisher applauds efforts to attract more applicants, he says the city should consider increasing their pay further and court older hopefuls.

  • Wages for Philly lifeguards range from $16 to $18 an hour. Starting pay has risen by $1.50 since 2019.

Zoom out: Some U.S. cities aim to attract lifeguards with big financial incentives. Phoenix, for instance, is offering $3,000 bonuses.

How it works: Philly lifeguard applications are due April 15 and candidates will need to work through the summer to be eligible for the $1,000 bonus. Candidates who sign up by May 15 are eligible for a $500 bonus.

  • All bonuses will be distributed at the end of the summer.

Plus: The city is offering other incentives, including free Red Cross certification classes for 16-24 year-olds.

  • The city will also offer free swimming lessons to some interested candidates.
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