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Disneyland workers struggle with low wages and homelessness

MoneyWatch's Jill Wagner has more
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The happiest place on Earth may not be a happy place to work. Some workers at Disneyland say they are struggling with homelessness and poverty because the theme park doesn't pay them enough to live on, CBS Los Angeles reports. 

Several Disney (DIS) unions met to discuss wages Wednesday night in Anaheim, while hundreds of protesters showed up to demand a livable wage.

One in 10 Disneyland employees has recently experienced homelessness, while two-thirds of workers don't have enough food to eat three meals per day, according to a new study from researchers at Occidental College and the Economic Roundtable. Low-wage workers in expensive regions -- such as Disneyland's location near Los Angeles -- are increasingly feeling the pinch as their incomes have failed to keep up with soaring real estate values and the cost of living. 

"I am on food stamps," Disney employee Tara Quint told CBS Los Angeles. "I have a lot of health problems and I can't even afford the medical insurance that they have us do weekly out of our checks."

Workers represented by a dozen unions in the park say their wages are unlivable even as Disneyland's profits and ticket prices go up, as well as local rents.

Quint, who cleans the park at night, says she can only make her rent because she shares a two-bedroom apartment in Anaheim with three others.

"I don't know if the people at the top realize the situation," said Quint.

Rebecca Petersen, a licensed cosmetologist, works as a makeup artist at Disneyland. She said low wages have forced her to live in her car. 

"I love my job. I love my job so much," Petersen said. "I had to choose between my car and a roof and I said well. My car is my ticket to money."

Union representatives are encouraging workers to demand a wage of $20 an hour, citing the study from Occidental and the Economic Roundtable. 

Disneyland is taking issue with the study, calling it "unscientific."

"This inaccurate and unscientific survey was paid for by politically motivated labor unions and its results are deliberately distorted and do not reflect how the overwhelming majority of our 30,000 cast members feel about the company," the company said in a statement.

Disneyland said the typical Disneyland worker earns average pay of $37,000 a year.

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