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Tuesday, May 2, 2023

There still aren’t enough lifeguards, folks.

Charlottesville and Albemarle County residents can expect another summer of reduced hours at public pools and beaches. I’m sure many of you remember this from last year — and it’s starting again. The Smith Aquatic Family Center is closed between 1-4:30 p.m. on weekdays for most of this month.

The city and county are facing another summer of pool and beach closures because they don’t have enough lifeguards

Both the city and county are actively trying to hire lifeguards. The trouble is, so are all the other private pools in Charlottesville and the surrounding counties. A quick search for “lifeguard” positions on Indeed will show you as much.

Just this morning, in an effort to attract more people, Charlottesville raised its base hourly rate to $17.50 from $15. (The new rate will take effect later this month.) That puts it above Albemarle’s base rate, which is $16. Both municipalities are offering a $500 signing bonus and they’re not charging for lifeguard training.

But it’s not just other pools that the municipalities are competing with. The local agencies told us potential lifeguards are being lured away to other types of part time and seasonal work that offer competitive pay with less stress and responsibility.

A boy holding a red flotation device jumps into an outdoor pool with lanes on the bottom.
Credit: Pixabay

Charlottesville and Albemarle County are not the only localities in this country experiencing a lifeguard shortage. Last year, an estimated one third of pools in the United States either closed or operated with reduced hours because they couldn’t staff enough lifeguards. Early news reports from across the country are predicting a similar trend this year. In just the last few days, news outlets in Texas, Kansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New Jersey and New York City published stories predicting shortages. You can read more about the national issue in this article from the Patch.

Last June, the New York Times published a story exploring the reasons for the national lifeguard shortage. It’s a fascinating article that’s worth a read if you’re interested. But it can be summed up in this paragraph from the story:

“City officials and industry experts point to a crush of factors driving the lifeguard shortage. A low unemployment rate has given young people plentiful job options. Because of Covid-related limits during the pandemic, swimming lessons and lifeguard courses were often suspended for parts of the last two years, poking holes in an already weak training pipeline. And employers are choosing from a smaller group of applicants: In states like Wisconsin, there are simply fewer teenagers than in decades past, as residents have increasingly chosen to have smaller families.”

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a lifeguard this summer, you can apply to the city of Charlottesville at this link, and to Albemarle County at this link.

Here’s hoping for a sudden surge of applicants and a summer spent by the pool!

Jessie Higgins, managing editor

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I'm Charlottesville Tomorrow's managing editor and health and safety reporter. If there’s something you think we should be investigating, please email me at jhiggins@cvilletomorrow.org! And you can follow all the work we do by subscribing to our free newsletter! Hablo español, y quiero mantener a la comunidad hispanohablante informada. Si tienes preguntas o información que debo saber, por favor, envíame un correo electrónico a jhiggins@cvilletomorrow.org.