You’re strolling down Main Street, U.S.A. in Anaheim, Calif. while snacking on a five dollar churro and sipping a cold lemonade in a $15 souvenir cup. Life is good. Surrounded by colorful gift shops with Mickey Mouse ears in every theme and color imaginable and dancing characters from all your favorite childhood classics — what could be better?
If the expensive items inside Disneyland weren’t enough of a burden on your wallet, last week Disneyland announced its first price increase since their 14 month closure due to the pandemic. Single day ticket prices increased 3% to 8% from last year depending on the type of ticket and date of reservation.
Disneyland’s ticket pricing is separated into a tier system based on demand for certain days, with the top tiers having the highest demand. The new pricing for each tier is as follows: tier 1: $104 (no change), tier 2: $119 (increase of $5), tier 3: $134 (increase of $10), tier 4: $149 (increase of $10), tier 5: $159 (increase of $5), tier 6: $164 (newly added). These prices represent single day admission into one park. The new pricing for tier one through five has already gone into effect ahead of the 2021 holiday season, but the new sixth tier price will not go into effect until March 2022.
In addition to the daily ticket increases, Disneyland has also increased the cost of standard daily parking by 20%, which can be compared to last year’s inflation rate of only 5.4%. For some, the high price is worth admission to “the happiest place on earth,” but others can’t swallow spending hundreds of dollars on a single family outing. In addition to the ticket prices, many families often spend hundreds of dollars on food, merchandise and ticket options that allow them to bypass long lines for certain attractions.
Disneyland ticket prices have consistently increased since the park’s opening in 1955. Entry cost only $1 for adults and 50 cents for children at the park’s opening. In addition to the entry fee, many of the rides and attractions cost an additional 25 cents.
In 1955, the minimum wage was 75 cents an hour. However, some Disneyland employees made up to $2.82 an hour for certain jobs. While the minimum wage and the price of tickets have both increased dramatically, the increase in ticket prices has significantly outpaced the wages Disneyland workers are paid. This has allowed Disneyland to make immense profits while still paying their employees relatively low wages, with many of them only making $15.50 an hour, barely above California’s current minimum wage of $14 an hour. A union that represents cast members at Disneyland is currently fighting for a $17 minimum wage at the park. If this wage increase is granted, it would make Disneyland’s minimum wage comparable to other starting wages in Orange County, one of California’s most expensive regions.
The park has been continuously upgrading and expanding since its opening more than 65 years ago. Some major improvements have been the addition of the Disney California Adventure Park which is home to Cars Land, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and most recently, Avengers Campus. New attractions have caused Disneyland to expand from just 160 acres in 1955 to 500 acres in 2021. With this, Disneyland has had to significantly increase the number of park employees, or “cast members” as they are referred to by Disney, from 500 at the park’s opening to 19,000 currently.
In their announcement, Disney says the decision to increase park ticket prices is due to “pent up demand after a 14 month closure.” While Disney did have a very significant loss of revenue due to the pandemic in 2020, it has already started rebounding in 2021. Disney also laid off almost 30,000 of their employees across multiple sectors due to the pandemic. This was the source of many former Disney employees struggling to pay bills and feed their families.
Despite the constant increases in prices for park-goers, many of Disneyland’s employees say they struggle with high levels of homelessness, food insecurity and low wages. A study conducted by the Los Angeles nonprofit Economic Roundtable and the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College looked at Disney’s unfavorable working conditions. The study found that working conditions for many Disneyland employees include low wages and long commutes that often fall short of providing adequate financial security. Disney responded to these conclusions as being inaccurate and politically motivated. The results of the study also concluded that with inflation taken into account, the average wage for a Disneyland worker decreased 15% from 2000 to 2017 from $15.80 to $13.36.
Despite the pandemic, Disney still racked up over $21.5 billion in gross profit in 2020, a 21.92% decrease from the previous year. With this large amount of profit in one year, Disney has the resources to pay their employees more and treat them better.
The low pay and often extreme working conditions have led to a lawsuit filed on behalf of five Disneyland employees but supported by thousands more to be certified as a class action lawsuit by the Orange County Superior Court. The lawsuit argues that Disneyland fails to pay its employees livable wages that match expensive Southern California living expenses, a mandatory requirement if the employer is getting a city subsidy.
Disney’s crew members are largely responsible for creating the magic in the park that so many people would go to great lengths to experience. Without them, the park would not come to life in the ways that make it so special and create lifelong memories for kids and adults alike. If Disneyland is going to continue to raise their admission prices, they must also raise the wages that they pay their employees.
Claire Schad is an Opinion Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.