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Morning Spew

Summer 2023 Ends Like it Began: With a Lifeguard Shortage

Cool off in a pool, if you can.

9:31 AM EDT on September 5, 2023

The U.S. Open is in full backswing. (Hell Gate)

Labor Day may be the spiritual end of summer, but as the weather today would like to remind you—summer is not technically over. Instead, we're returning to work (if we ever left), amidst blistering heat, with the heat index reaching the mid-nineties in Manhattan. In response, the City has opened cooling centers across the five boroughs. Another option, at least through the weekend, is to hop in one of the city's Olympic-sized pools or beaches, which are still open through the weekend. 

This is actually an extended pool and beach season, as for decades until very recently, pools stayed open only through Labor Day. Back in 2015, overheated politicians pointed out that with a changing climate, September was becoming a lot more summer-y, but with beaches and pools closing for basically the whole month, New Yorkers were limited in the ways they could cool off. After lobbying the Parks Department, those politicians won us an extra week of beaches and pools, but that's it—come September 11th this year, pools will be closed, and more importantly, beaches will be left without lifeguards. 

Why is New York content to let pools dry out and beaches, during the most dangerous part of the Atlantic Hurricane season, go unsupervised? As always with the City's lifeguards, it comes down to staffing. Back when this was last litigated in the press in 2015, the lifeguard union trotted out the idea that keeping beaches open longer than pools would be discriminatory, as the majority of beach lifeguards then were white, while pool lifeguards were people of color. So if they wanted to extend hours, it would need to happen citywide. Since then, of course, there has been a precipitous drop in the amount of lifeguards in the city, and the lifeguard union has been an intractable barrier to keeping pools open at all.

Summer 2023 was another dismal failure by the City when it came to its beaches and pools—closing off large sections of City pools, curtailing hours, and leaving stretches of the beach without lifeguards. What did Mayor Eric Adams do about it? Not much at all, besides getting touchy when asked about it by a reporter. After raising city lifeguard pay, the Parks Department did even worse than last year in its efforts to hire lifeguards, despite nearby localities having no problem at all. Adams told a reporter that they (the reporter) should be encouraging people to become lifeguards… even though the Parks Department closed new training slots to potential lifeguards way back in the early spring. He simply didn't do his job, and pawned the blame off on someone else. 

The days of dreaming about a longer pool and beach season appear to be in the past. Long gone might be citywide adult lap swim, which offered early morning hours and stretched into the cool evening hours of mid-summer. That program hasn't been sighted since the pandemic, and lessons for new swimmers this year were given out to a lucky few. Two swim seasons under Mayor Adams have been complete disasters, and New Yorkers are beginning to forget a time when they actually demanded more pools and beaches, instead of just open ones. In this stifling heat, it's okay to lose your cool over this. We deserve so much more. 

Some links to pull across your forehead and say "man, it's a hot one”:

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