WASHINGTON — Memorial Day kicked off the start of summer, with pools, water parks and beaches nationwide opening for the season.
But it turns out, not everyone is ready.
It wasn't long before headlines read, "National Lifeguard Shortage." Pools across the country are having a hard time staffing their lifeguard posts.
Is there a national lifeguard shortage?
Yes, according to the American Lifeguard Association and the YMCA of the USA.
- Wyatt Werneth: Spokesperson for the American Lifeguard Association
- Lindsay Mondick: Aquatics expert at YMCA of the USA
WHAT WE FOUND
Our Verify researchers spoke with Wyatt Werneth, spokesperson for the American Lifeguard Association and a former member of the Navy, Coast Guard, firefighter and Brevard County Ocean Rescue chief; and Lindsay Mondick, water safety specialist for YMCA of the USA.
Both Werneth and Mondick confirmed that there is a shortage.
"A lack of interest, the pandemic, the halt to the foreign exchange, people aging out, all these are the perfect storm," Werneth said.
Besides COVID restrictions limiting some lifeguarding classes this past year, both experts agree that for the last few years there’s also been a drop in interest.
Mondick chalks that up to teens opting for internship opportunities rather than lifeguarding.
"It's been a pretty tight labor market in relation to the aquatics industry, specifically lifeguards, for the last couple of years, and I would say even more so since the pandemic," Mondick said. "And when we look at the reasons why, I think it's compounded in a couple different ways.
Both experts say some areas rely on foreign exchange students in the United States on J-1 visas. State Department numbers from the last five years show a dramatic drop in J-1 visas in 2020, from 335,226 in 2019 to 57,835 in 2020 -- an 83% decrease.
In June 2020, former President Donald Trump suspended new J-1 visa applications. His presidential order was extended in December and expired in April 2021.
“Typically we have a lot of overseas staff that come to patrol our beaches and our water parks in the summer, and because of the pandemic, those staff are not available to come over on their visas,” Mondick said.
Both experts stressed that there should always be a designated water watcher within each party going to the beach, pool, etc.
But are we facing shortages on the local level? Our Verify researchers went to some local pools to find out.
We spoke with Carrie Headen, aquatics manager for Montgomery County Recreation, and Tara Stewart, division chief for aquatics and athletic facilities for the Prince George's County Department of Parks and Recreation.
“We have been offering limited lifeguarding classes due to the COVID restrictions, but we are finding that those classes are full as soon as we open them," Headen said. "So in Montgomery County, our swimming pools are not necessarily experiencing a lifeguard shortage.”
Over in Glenn Dale, Maryland, Stewart said they're hoping to hire more lifeguards.
"We are seeing a reduction in the number coming out and applying for lifeguarding positions, and taking a lifeguarding course," Stewart said. "We normally train about 100 people in our lifeguard courses and right now we’ve hired approximately 40 new lifeguards. We’re still hiring and offering training through the summer to make sure that we can completely staff up.”
Both Headen and Stewart said all their pools have opened on time.
So we can verify, nationally there’s a lifeguard shortage. But whether or not your local pool is affected depends on where you live.