Five Takeaways From the Disneyland “Homeless” Report

by Gustavo Arellano on March 8, 2018

(This piece first appeared in Capital and Main)

New research reveals that 11 percent of 5,000 Disneyland workers surveyed—custodians, food workers, musicians, cashiers, concierges—have been homeless at least once in the past year.

It’s the report being read ’round the world. “Working for the Mouse: A Survey of Disneyland Resort Workers,” co-authored by the Economic Roundtable and the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College, has conclusively revealed Orange County’s dirtiest secret: The Happiest Place on Earth is little more than the embodiment of scarcity economics for many of its workers (known in Disneyspeak as “cast members”).

Media outlets from the New York Times to NPR (and even Breitbart) reported on the study’s most explosive findings: that 11 percent of the 5,000 workers surveyed—custodians, food workers, musicians, cashiers, concierges and more—have been homeless at least once in the past year, that three-quarters of them “do not earn enough money for basic expenses every month” and that 85 percent make less than $15 an hour, despite years of record-breaking profits by Disney. But a deeper reading of the 126-page report uncovers even more damning information. Here are five underreported angles:

  • Seniority Doesn’t Matter  Among cast members who’ve worked more than 15 years, 52 percent don’t make above $15 an hour, and 67 percent “can’t afford to pay their monthly bills.” It makes sense, then, that while 75 percent of cast members feel “they are treated with respect on the job,” only 35 percent of senior employees do. And emphasis on the senior: The number of cast members over 55 has jumped from nine percent of the total Disney work force in 2002 to 18 percent in 2017.
  • Those Omnipresent Cast-Member Smiles Cost Them  Forty-one percent of full-time employees forsook needed dental work in the past year because they couldn’t afford the premiums on Disney’s insurance or had no insurance at all.
  • Disney Loves Kids — Unless They’re Employees’ Kids  Fifty-seven percent of workers with children missed at least one shift in the past year because they couldn’t find a babysitter. Seventy-nine percent of employees who pay for child care say they’re food-insecure. Meanwhile, the Disneyland Resort has no onsite, subsidized child care facility; 79 percent of workers surveyed said they would use this service if Disney offered it. “I would love that for my 2 year old and 3 year old to know that they would be on property close to me,” one part-time ticket seller told researchers, “and would not have to worry about rushing home in two hours of traffic to go get them.”
  • Disney Workers Live Far Worse than the Average California Worker  While 44 percent of Californians rent, nearly two-thirds of cast members do so. Fourteen percent of California renters live in households with more than one person per room; 52 percent of cast members do. Meanwhile, four percent of workers in Los Angeles and Orange counties commute more than one hour to their jobs, compared with 31 percent of Mouse workers. That daily drive for them “is so onerous,” according to the report, that 21 percent of all Disney employees “sometimes stay with friends, rent a hotel room, or sleep in their cars rather than return home and then come back to work for their next shift.”
  • Few Disneylanders Live in South Orange County  “Working for the Mouse” mapped out where the majority of Disney workers live, a blob roughly bounded by the 55, 91, 15, 10 and 710, freeways. Relatively few Disney workers live in South Orange County, OC’s richer, whiter, more recently developed area—further proof that a Disney job marks the worker as a member of the working poor.

Filed under: Bay Area / California