Most Chicago Pools Are Set to Open Next Week. A Nationwide Lifeguard Shortage is Threatening That

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Taking a dip on a hot day in one of Chicago's many pools and beaches is a favorite summer activity for residents across the city and suburbs.

And as the hot weather persists and temperatures remain in the 90s, it's becoming more and more tempting to dive in. But a lifeguard shortage across the nation is continuing to affect whether or not the city's 49 local pools -- which are set to open to be open by June 24 -- will be properly staffed for safe swimming.

"We need lifeguards NOW," said Chicago Park District General Superintendent Rosa Escareño said in a release Wednesday.

"The regional and national lifeguard shortage is real and our goal is to increase lifeguard coverage, incentivize qualified seasonal employees this summer and build a pipeline for year-round workers," Escareño continued. "Chicago families rely on our park programs during the summer, so we are not giving up."

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that a Freedom of Information Request revealed a 91% vacancy rate among seasonal lifeguards. And according to Block Club Chicago, in 2021, the city's 29 indoor park district pools were closed due to the lifeguard shortage.

In an effort to attract more seasonal and permanent lifeguards, the Park District says its boosting a retention and lifeguard bonus, and relaxing city residency requirements for applicants. Here's a breakdown:

  • $600 recruitment and retention bonus for all new hires returning seasonal and year-round lifeguards
  • $500 referral bonus for existing District employees who refer qualified candidates to work as lifeguards
  • Opportunity for seasonal lifeguards to secure year-round employment status after the summer ends
  • Temporarily waiving city residency requirement for seasonal lifeguards to attract qualified applicants from neighboring suburbs

According the Park District, the current hourly wage for Chicago lifeguards is $15.88 an hour. The retention bonus would raise the average wage to an equivalent of $17.08 an hour.

As part of the application process, candidates must be fully vaccinated and take an American Red Cross Lifeguard training course, which runs $80.

While Chicago's 22 beaches opened for the season Memorial Day weekend, swimming is currently prohibited, according to the Park District's red flag system.

Chicago Beaches: How to Check Lake Michigan Water Temperature, Swimming Conditions

"Warning: Only swim at beaches, when lifeguards are on duty from 11 am to 7 pm daily," the Park District website states.

The Chicago Park District didn't immediately provide details on how many lifeguards it was short.

Those 16 years of age and older are eligible to apply to be a lifeguard. Here's how to apply.

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