Millions of children and their parents vacation at Disney World. The Magic Kindom theme park and other attractions that offer fun and make-believe adventure have made the Orlando, Florida, region one of the world's biggest tourist destinations.
But the Orlando Sentinel reported this week that life is less than fantastic for many of the theme park's workers. The Sentinel's Chabeli Herrera tells of workers barely scrounging by, including a seven-year Disney veteran who sometimes sleeps in her car after work because she can't afford gas to drive home. Such workers say they struggle despite a commitment by Disney to raise its union workers' wages dramatically over the next two years. “This,” Herrera wrote, “is the place where the pixie dust loses its sparkle.”
Tourism is the area's largest employer, and the theme parks, hotels and restaurants continue to boost the area's growth. But so many tourism jobs in one place, many of them low-wage, come with consequences, Herrera found. “Paychecks across all industries in Central Florida rank dead last among the top 50 metropolitan areas in the United States,” she reported. The combination of low wages and lack of affordable housing in Orlando force some workers to seek cheaper housing as much as a two-hour commute away.
The low-wage job market in the theme park industry also overshadows the kind of economic development efforts that could bring higher-paying jobs, the Sentinel reported. The predominance of tourist-related jobs keeps the economy afloat but doesn't nurture a skilled workforce.
“We survive as a community because of this,” Eric Gray, executive director of social service agency United Against Poverty Orlando, told the Sentinel. But, he added, “The three major reasons why we're not able to attract a higher paying industry in the community are No. 1 the lack of skilled labor in this community and No. 2 and 3, the lack of skilled labor in this community.”