New Survey Highlights Generational & Racial Inequities in Water Safety Education

Living in the Bronx, we have access to city beaches, pools, and if you’re lucky- friends with pools. But just because we live in a city surrounded by water, doesn’t mean everyone here knows how to swim. The YMCA recently released new data that highlights the personal experiences and barriers parents face when it comes to swimming and water safety. The data was collected from a diverse set of U.S. parents including Black, LatinX/Hispanic and other population segments. And while the survey showed that nine in 10* parents see swimming as a key life skill for children – on par with first aid skills and the ability to prepare a meal- it also uncovered the impact of unique generational and racial inequities when it comes to ensuring all parents and children are safe and confident around water, whether it’s a pool, beach, waterpark, or lake front.

According to the CDC, drowning rates for Black people are disproportionately higher than that of white people across all age groups, a rate that has remained largely unchanged, highlighting enduring systemic racism throughout U.S. history. Additionally, according to a national research study conducted by the USA Swimming Foundation with the University of Memphis and University of Nevada-Las Vegas, 60 percent of African American children and 45 percent of Hispanic children cannot swim, compared to 40 percent of Caucasian children. New data from Y-USA underscores that, while affordability and accessibility are major barriers for parents across racial and ethnic backgrounds, unsurprisingly Black parents surveyed are more likely than other U.S. parents surveyed, to associate bodies of water and water activities with negative feelings, including caution, anxiety and fear.

Other key findings from Y-USA’s survey include:

  • While the majority of parents show interest in signing up for water safety programs, one in two parents believe water safety classes are expensive, and nearly three in 10 (32%) state that water safety isn’t a priority due to affordability concerns.
    • This concern around affordability is especially higher among LatinX/Hispanic parents (36%) in comparison to the other groups, including Black parents and a segmentation of the U.S. parent population surveyed.
  • Black parents are 1.6 times more likely, in comparison to the U.S. parent population surveyed, to report having low confidence with water or water activities.
    • This corresponds with supporting data that 44 percent of Black parents’ self-report to have only beginner or no swimming abilities, a nearly 20 percentage point difference in comparison to the overall U.S. parent population and subset of LatinX/Hispanic parents surveyed.
  • Nine in 10 U.S. parents see swimming as a key life skill for children, on par with first aid skills or being able to prepare a simple meal, Black parents surveyed are less likely to encourage their children’s participation in water activities.
    • Parents also rank swimming/water safety skills as more important than being proficient in STEM, arts and music, team sports or wilderness survival.
  • Nearly 60 percent of Black parents have negative associations towards lakes, rivers, beaches or the ocean and 40 percent have negative sentiments toward pools.

“We know from the USA Swimming Foundation that if a parent does not know how to swim, there is only a 13 percent chance that their child will learn how to swim, however, we must analyze this data point in the context of American history,” said Lindsay Mondick, director of innovative priorities at YMCA of the USA. “There is a history of exclusion associated with swimming pools, in particular, that has contributed to some of the racial inequities we see in data associated with drownings. With a footprint as significant as the Y’s, it is our responsibility to help break down those barriers and engage in these conversations to ultimately address the impact of these inequities including, fears, stressors and behaviors that Black and LatinX/Hispanic adults in particular have with water.”

More than 100 years ago, the Y created the concept of group swim lessons and, to this day, teaches more than one million children invaluable water safety and swimming skills each year. The Y, as a vital community asset, recognizes that its size and reach uniquely positions the organization to bridge the gap in the delivery of swim lessons and water safety education. Given that there are 2,600 Ys serving 10,000 communities across the country, with its that reach and presence, the Y has a responsibility in acknowledging, recognizing, and understanding the emotional barriers at play to provide the right resources, build trust and, ultimately, enable families to feel comfortable and confident around all bodies of water.

The Y offers two programs intended to help children have fun, be confident and stay safe including Y Swim Lessons across three general categories, from 6 months to adults, and a specific drowning prevention class, Safety Around Water, a free program for children ages 4-14 as well as adults in select locations. To learn more about water safety at the Y, please visit Those interested in enrollment are encouraged to visit their local Y-USA for further details, including financial assistance and/or scholarships available to those who qualify.

For the Bronx YMCA location, visit

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