Public Pools Becoming Rare

Original Article:

  • Author: Michael Saltsman

  • Publication Date: June 2010

  • Newspaper: The Vindicator

  • Topics: Minimum Wage

School is out. The mercury in our thermometers is creeping ever-upward as the dog days of summer approach. What better way to while away the days than with a cannonball into the deep end of your local pool?

Assuming the pool is open, of course.

Among other factors, like the rising cost of pool cleaner, increases in the minimum wage have led pools and water parks around the country to raise their prices. Some have even shut their gates due to rising costs.

Tulsa, Oklahoma, residents are feeling the heat: Only five of their 19 city pools will be open this summer, and the pools that are open have had to drastically increase their admission fees. City Spokesperson Stephanie Higgins told a local radio station that the federal government’s 40 percent hike in the last minimum wage increase was one of the culprits for the shutdown. It has simply become too expensive for the city to operate their pools.

In California, where the minimum wage is even higher than the federally mandated minimum, local governments are also feeling the pinch. The Wave Waterpark in Vista operates in part because of a subsidy from the city. That subsidy has risen to more than half a million dollars in the last several years. Once again, increases to the minimum wage can be blamed: Past hikes in California’s wage have increased the park’s labor costs by $250,000, according to the park’s manager.

Our pool plight is a symptom of a larger sickness, namely the difficulty teenagers are having finding work in an incredibly tight labor market. It’s hard for businesses to justify paying these higher rates for young, unskilled employees. The painful result? Fewer are hired.

The unemployment rate for 16 to 17 year olds is still near 30 percent. Those looking for work are also taking longer to find it: As of April of this year, almost one in three teens had spent more than half of a year looking for a job.

One way the service sector compensates for these mandated higher wages is by automating the jobs once held by entry-level and lower skilled workers. Why do you think you pump your own gas at Exxon and bus your own tray at McDonalds? It costs too much money for businesses with low profit margins to pay someone to perform such basic tasks when the customer demands lower prices.

But while you can nudge people to bus their own trays, you can’t get them to perform CPR on themselves.

With community pools and recreation facilities across the country closing, this wave of unemployment is crashing ashore with disastrous consequences for communities and young people alike. How will parents convince kids to get out of the house on those dreadful 95 degree days? Where will teenage lifeguards learn valuable lessons about responsibility and the working world without a first job?

Perhaps most importantly: How will the next generation perfect their cannonball technique?

Michael Saltsman is the research fellow at the Employment Policies Institute, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to studying public policy issues surrounding entry-level employment.