One year after we reported on severe labor shortages on the Delaware shore, the story hasn’t changed much. Heading into another summer, pools, amusement parks, beach towns, and boardwalks across the nation do not have enough workers to operate at 100% for the busy summer season.
The latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows we have 11.4 million open jobs, and only 6 million unemployed workers to fill them. The pandemic caused a major upheaval in our nation’s workforce, and labor force participation remains below pre-pandemic levels.
This summer, public pools are seeing a crippling impact. Even after hosting hiring fairs, recruiting at local high schools, raising pay, and offering bonuses, there are few applicants.
A lifeguard shortage has kept half of public pools in Phoenix closed for the second year in a row. The city says they are already working to recruit more lifeguards for summer 2023. Just 12 of Houston’s 37 city pools are open due to the lifeguard shortage. Cincinnati has only been able to hire enough lifeguards to staff eight of its 32 pools, despite offering $725 signing bonuses, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.
One third of all public pools across the country are predicted to be closed this summer, according to the American Lifeguard Association (ALA). Bernard Fisher of the ALA told CBS News that the shortage was “the worst he’d ever seen.”
Guards from the 2019 season have moved on, and during the pandemic there has been a lack of training opportunities for new staff. At the same time, a nationwide and industry-wide worker 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 amusement industry has parks upping their pay as well as providing big bonuses to new employees. Six Flags Fiesta Texas is starting a variety of jobs at $15 or more this summer. SeaWorld San Antonio is offering up to a $1,000 bonus for water park lifeguards and $750 bonuses for those who get hired in food and beverage.
But local pools, carnivals and smaller parks can’t keep up. Labor shortages caused a local carnival in Illinois to be postponed this summer. Similarly, beach town boardwalks and amusement destinations are full of “Help Wanted” signs, as small, independent businesses struggle to find and hire the workers they need.
The amusement industry relies on hiring seasonal workers from outside the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, amusement and recreation jobs are the second most common job granted temporary work permits, called H2-Bs. Shore towns rely on J-1 visa workers to run seasonal businesses—a program in which enrollment has been slow to rebound after COVID-19.
There has been some progress: In March, the DOL and Department of Homeland Security made an additional 35,000 H2-B visas available for the remainder of fiscal year 2022, and J-1 enrollment has reached roughly three-quarters of its enrollment size compared to 2019.
But for many businesses, it’s too little, and too late.
“The government holds everything up and forgets about us and people who want to enjoy themselves,” Mark Salerno of Windy City Amusements in Illinois told Patch after postponing a local carnival due to staff shortages. “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 U.S. Chamber launched the America Works initiative to mobilize business and government to swiftly address the worker shortage crisis. We continue to advocate for policy solutions—including increasing legal immigration caps—and have released dozens of reports, guides, and other resources to help businesses fill their open jobs.
Story by Lindsay Cates, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Lindsay is a manager on the communications and strategy team. She previously worked as a writer and editor at U.S. News and World Report.