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Is Walt Disney World really the happiest place on Earth?

Published: Thursday, April 24 2014 4:25 p.m. MDT

This image released by Disney shows fireworks punctuating the sky at the grand opening celebration at the Cinderella Castle for the New Fantasyland attraction at the Walt Disney World Resort's Magic Kingdom theme park in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. The new attraction is the largest expansion at the Magic Kingdom. In more recent days, Walt Disney World isn't as happy as it might appear. The county it resides in is struggling with homelessness and the park is having problems with its workers.

Gene Duncan, Associated Press

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Walt Disney World isn't just the No. 1 destination in the world.

The park is also the subject of several news reports over the last few weeks in which the tourist hot spot is praised for innovation and ridiculed for its effects on the county it lives in.

On Thursday, The Associated Press reported that the Disney theme park in Orlando has had a tremendous impact on Osceola County, Fla., where the park and many of its workers reside. Homelessness plagues the county, as park’s workers — many of whom earn $8.03 an hour when they start — aren’t able to afford homes, The AP reported.

“On any given day, tourists pay nearly $100 per person to get into Orlando's theme parks,” The AP reported. “There, they may be waited on by homeless parents. From their hotels, they jog past bus stops where homeless children wait to head to school. They buy coffee at Starbucks next to the motels that have become families' homes.”

It’s not an easy living situation. Disney is creating problems in the area, despite its internationally immense popularity, The AP reported.

"The fact that we're the happiest place on Earth and No. 1 travel destination is good news, but this service-based economy is actually creating a dynamic of homelessness," said Catherine Jackson, who recently wrote a report on the county.

Disney is trying to make things better for its workers, according to Christopher Palmeri of Bloomberg. The parks are looking to raise the starting pay to $10 an hour, which is the same minimum wage amount proposed by President Barack Obama, Bloomberg reported.

"I'm very pleased," Ed Chambers, president of the council, said to Bloomberg. "We're well on our way to getting a deal done."

But there’s more going on than just the pay of the workers. Disney has also been the subject of a lawsuit filed by parents of autistic kids, who condemned the theme parks for new policy for waiting in line, Fox News reported. This comes just weeks after The New York Post reported that families were hiring handicap tour guides — at rates of $130 an hour — to help them cut lines.

“Some wealthy Manhattan moms have figured out a way to cut the long lines at Walt Disney World — by hiring disabled people to pose as family members so they and their kids can jump to the front,” The Post reported.

Disney has been trying to help people waiting in its long lines as of late, though. ABC News showed that parents and kids can play in an interactive room while they wait in line. While inside, they wait for a buzzer that signals it’s their turn to get on the ride, ABC News reported.

“People come here to have fun, first and foremost, and we want them to have a great experience,” said Kathy Mangum, creative executive of Walt Disney Imagineering, according to ABC News. “And if you’ve got the perception of spending less time waiting, ’cause you’re having so much fun, we feel like we’ve done our job.”

Email: hscribner@deseretdigital.com, Twitter: @herbscribner

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