Submitted by Ray Blessman
As summer rolls around, articles about the shortage of lifeguards start blooming along with the lilacs. My son is well qualified for one of these positions; he's an Eagle Scout with a Red Cross certification and is currently swimming competitively at the college level. But again this summer, he won't be applying for one of the many positions that are available.
My work experience is deeply rooted in accounting and economics, and it appears that somewhere along the line, my kids learned how to determine the value of their time. At the core of a lifeguarding certificaton, there is a requirement to put your own safety at risk when that's necessary to save the life of another. For outdoor lifeguards there are additional risks associated with so much sun exposure. And to top if off, given fickle weather conditions and the hourly nature of the pay for most lifeguards (which is only provided when the weather conditions are right), few employers are offering them 40 consistent hours of work each week.
Given this high level of responsibility and the risk, you'd think that lifeguards could command wage premiums over many other jobs available to college students in the summer and certainly you'd expect them to earn a higher hourly rate than those paid to fast food workers. But apparently, as of the summer of 2019, they don't. And because my son has spent a lot of time listening to me, and he can do the math, he'll be seeking other work opportunities during this break.
It occurs to me that teenagers working as lifeguards serve as a bellwether for the way many first responders are feeling right now. These feelings probably explain why the country faces shortages of police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and other first reponders. Compensation for these roles just doesn't align with the risks, and I can't help but wonder how bad things need to get before we start paying them more.
I'm glad that my work helped my son understand the value of his time and skills, but I worry about what will happen if I ever need a first responder.