Disney claims that it is the “happiest place on earth” but this is not the case for a majority of its employees, who face financial hardship at every turn.

This past January, Disneyland Resort started offering a large number of employees a $15 minimum wage. In a press release, Disney patted itself on the back for “far outpacing” California and the state’s unsubstantial minimum wage increase to $12.

However, this Disney increase came after several months of pressure from employees and representatives, including a condemnation from Senator Bernie Sanders. He cited the massive disparity between Disney CEO Bob Igers’ massive compensation package (valued at over 50 million dollars) and the low pay of the frontline employees.

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Senator Bernie Sanders asks why Disney CEO Iger is making millions while some of his employees struggle to get by. Photo credit: Nathan Kiesselbach

The wage increase will not be enough to offset cost of living increases that are widespread throughout Orange County.

Disneyland Resort is located in Orange County, that commands some of the highest real estate prices in the world. According to the 2018 Community Indicators Study, an Orange County Resident would have to make $28.71 per hour to afford a median priced one bedroom apartment. High rent prices lead to overcrowding, housing instability, and homelessness. The wage increase only covers half the ground needed for a typical employee to afford housing.

The issue of housing stability for Disney employees was highlighted last year in a story reported by the OC Register. It was a heartbreaking story of a Disney employee who, due to economic hardship, had lived in her car. She later died in her vehicle in a parking lot due to health complications.

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The hourly wage needed to afford an average one-bedroom apartment is nearly double that earned by Disney employees. Photo credit: Nathan Kiesselbach

In a damning study done by Economic Roundtable, underwritten by The Coalition of Resort Labor Unions, found that Disney employee’s low wages have caused a myriad of issues, including food insecurity and an inability to afford basic necessities. The largest issue stems from high rent prices in the region, with half the employees identified in the study in a constant worry about concerns of being priced out and evicted from their homes and apartments.

The report also indicates that those with children who work for Disney are among the hardest hit by low wages. The report states that after paying for childcare, 80% of employees cannot make ends meet at the end of the month.

Disneyland has no problem rewarding its employees handsomely for doing well at their job, as long as it is in the upper echelon of the company. As Disney employees barely scrape by, CEO Bob Iger enjoyed a tremendous pay jump of 80% last year to an astounding $65.6 million. Iger’s compensation alone equates to the pay of thousands of Disneyland employees.

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Disney revenue has grown significantly over the years, bringing hundreds of millions of profit to the company. Employee wages aren't reflected in the growth. Photo credit: Nathan Kiesselbach

The reason for the relatively low minimum wage does not lie in poor park performance, either. Quite the contrary, as park profits have increased 18% between 2017 and 2018 from $746 million to $829 million. This is profit, not revenue. In addition, Disney has enjoyed preferential treatment in the form of tax rebates and subsidies. The latest being the notable decision by the Anaheim city council to suspend a Disney ticket tax for 30 years in exchange for further company investment in its own properties.

Amid a growing trend in a rise of income inequality, an increasing cost of college tuition, and skyrocketing rent, Disney does little to alleviate the hardship of its own employees. Aside from Disney’s Aspire program, a tuition assistance program with a limited scope, employees are left out to dry.

It feels like a tale all to common: the CEO’s and large stockholders make record breaking profits year after year with exceedingly low corporate tax rates, while the rest are forced to fight for scraps.

If the Disney company truly believed that “cast members are the most valuable part” of their organization, they would pay them a real living wage.

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