One year after we reported severe labor shortages on the Delaware Coast, the story has not changed much. As another summer approaches, swimming pools, amusement parks, beach towns and boardwalks across the country don’t have enough workers to operate at 100% during the busy summer season.
The latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that we have 11.4 million jobs open and only 6 million unemployed to fill them. The pandemic has caused a major upheaval in our nation’s workforce, and labor force participation remains below pre-pandemic levels.
This summer, public swimming pools are experiencing a crippling impact. Even after hosting job fairs, recruiting from local high schools, raising salaries and offer bonusesthere are few candidates.
A shortage of lifeguards has kept half of public pools in Phoenix firm for the second consecutive year. The city says it is already working to recruit more lifeguards for the summer of 2023. Only 12 of Houston’s 37 city pools are open due to the shortage of lifeguards. Cincinnati was only able to hire enough lifeguards to staff eight of its 32 pools, despite offering $725 signing bonuses, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.
According to the American Lifeguard Association (ALA), a third of all public swimming pools in the country are expected to be closed this summer. Bernard Fisher of the ALA said CBS News that the shortage was “the worst he had ever seen”.
The guards for the 2019 season have evolved and during the pandemic there has been a lack of training opportunities for new staff. At the same time, a nationwide and industry-wide labor shortage means competition for workers is high.
For example, a teenager may be able to earn more at a nearby amusement park this summer.
Labor shortages in the entertainment industry have parks increase their salary as well as offering large bonuses to new employees. Six Flags Fiesta Texas is starting a variety of $15 or more jobs this summer. SeaWorld San Antonio is offering up to $1,000 in bonuses to water park lifeguards and $750 in bonuses to those hired in catering.
But local pools, carnivals and small parks can’t keep up. Labor shortages prompted a local carnival in Illinois postponed this summer. Likewise, seaside town promenades and entertainment venues are full of “Help Wanted” signs as small, independent businesses struggle to find and hire the workers they need.
The entertainment industry relies on hiring seasonal workers outside of the United States. According to the US Department of Labor, jobs in hobbies and hobbies are the second most common job for which temporary work permits, called H2-Bs, are granted. Coastal towns rely on J-1 visa workers to run seasonal businesses — a program in which enrollments have been slow to rebound from COVID-19.
There has been some progress: in March, the DOL and Department of Homeland Security made available an additional 35,000 H2-B visas for the remainder of fiscal year 2022, and J-1 enrollment grew to about three-quarters of its enrollment size from 2019.
But for many companies, it’s too little too late.
“The government is blocking everything and forgetting about us and people who want to have fun,” Mark Salerno of Windy City Amusements in Illinois said Patch after postponing a local carnival due to a lack of staff. “Not everyone can afford to go to Disney World. For a lot of little kids, our carnival is their Disney World.”
A year ago, the United States Chamber launched the America works initiative to mobilize business and government to quickly resolve the labor shortage crisis. We continue to advocate for policy solutions, including raising legal immigration caps, and have published dozens of reports, guides and other resources to help companies fill their vacancies.
Discover our Resources and join the conversation with #AmericaWorks.
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About the authors
Manager, Communications and Strategy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Lindsay is a manager in the communications and strategy team. Previously, she worked as a writer and editor at US News and World Report.