Book paints dark picture of “work campers”

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By Chuck Woodbury
“Nomadland, Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century” is not a feel-good book. If anything it’s a feel-bad book. It paints a very dark picture of RVers who work as they travel. In the world author Jessica Bruder portrays, these people are desperate and must work to survive. She does not discuss the tens of thousands of other “work campers” who work because they enjoy being productive and the extra income allows them to live a better life.

Still, the RVers Bruder profiles are real. I found the book fascinating, although disturbing. I know these people are out there, usually living in older RVs because it’s all they can afford, dependent on working for minimum wage to survive. I’ve seen them in my travels across America, holing up in back corners of cheap RV parks, barely affording the discounted monthly rates.

From the beet fields of North Dakota to Amazon’s CamperForce program, employers have discovered a new, low-cost labor pool, made up largely of transient older Americans who bring their own “homes” with them to work sites, often filling local RV parks. With Social Security coming up short, they have taken to the road in motorhomes, trailers and vans, forming a growing community of migrant laborers.

Unfortunately, Bruder focuses on those at the bottom of the economic rung, leaving the reader with the impression that this is the way it is for most RVers who work. That’s not true.

On frequently traveled routes between seasonal jobs, Bruder profiles people from all walks of life who ended up poor in their senior years, dependent on extra income to survive. Her description of the back-breaking work at Amazon during the holiday season (for about $11.50 an hour) makes you realize how desperate some elderly Americans are for the money. It’s heartbreaking to hear some of their stories.

Bruder is an excellent writer and the book is a page-turner. But I think she presents a sensational picture of “work camping” that is not accurate. Still, it’s an eye-opener to the lives of some older Americans who really must work for their supper. “Nomadland” is available on Amazon.

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Lyn
7 days ago

I was one of those who started saving for retirement when I graduated high school at 15 yrs. old, and put most of my earned dollars into a retirement account. Fast forward to a year before I retired when I discovered my long-time advisor was suffering with Alzheimer’s. His incompetent son had taken over the business, and had no clue what he was doing. Life had happened, and I hadn’t checked in like I should have; yes, my bad. To my astonishment, my $2million retirement account (more than enough for me) had dwindled to almost nothing. When called into account, the son disappeared with who knows how many dollars that he hadn’t squandered yet. Lots of effort went into finding him, but it’s pretty easy to disappear if you want to. So, here I am at 73, living on Social Security, watching every single penny, and finding the odd job to help out. “There but for the grace of God go I,” you folks who feel compelled to criticize. Be kind instead, okay?

melanie
9 days ago

I ordered this book from my local independent bookstore. I found it interesting reading, and a cautionary tale. Life is full of surprises, especially now. Even those who plan never know what is in store.

i found several of the comments here saddening, and a reflection of these times. But I am not going to be smug enough to judge.

Tom
9 days ago

If you don’t save for retirement over the very long haul of your working years, this maybe a result of very poor prior planning. Leasing and credit cards will do your future in. But, I suspect the crowd that supports this very fine work by Chuck and crew have already figured this out.

Sharon B
9 days ago
Reply to  Tom

I totally agree! From day one of work as a teenager put at least 20% in a shoe box. After a little is saved then open a bank account. You will get used to saving that money and feel guilty if you touch it.
After the habit becomes regular look for a safe place for investing that money. I have a friend who started saving from her first job at age 16y/o. She became an RN nurse…not big bucks as we know, but a decent wage. She hit a million at age just over 50. She has no problem with money and still receives her full social security check. She is in good shape financially.

Last edited 9 days ago by Sharon B
cee
9 days ago
Reply to  Tom

Everything isn’t black and white, right or wrong. You can start saving as a teenager, have a plan for retirement years but it only takes one crisis or medical event to wipe it all out. Try dealing with life saving drugs that cost $1500/mo. Life can be harsh even with the best planning

Sink Jaxon
9 days ago
Reply to  cee

Cee, you are absolutely correct, and there are millions of stories out there to prove it.

Montgomery D. Bonner
9 days ago

Everyone, should have prepared for old age, I sincerely hope the younger generation is not depending on me to support them because I am spending the last dollar I have the day I die. If they are thinking the government is going to take care of them, trust me, there is not enough money to do that. Add up the richest 400 Americans total wealth, then you will see, that taking from the rich is not going to come even close to paying those bills for them. You, and only YOU are responsible for your future, if you have not taken the necessary steps to provide for YOU in YOUR old age, then don’t depend on me. I will watch you starve, YOU are not my responsibility, and no, I am surely not one of the rich, I just am responsible for myself. Call me selfish, I don’t care. Me, and MINE, come first. Most every retailer and even amazon has raised the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour at least after 6 months of work.

Chuck B
9 days ago

I’m really glad I don’t know you or are related to you. That way I will never have to come to you for any kind of help. You must live a sad and lonely life. Helping others has been a great pleasure and joy in our lives. I can’t think of anything that makes me feel better.

Sink Jaxon
9 days ago

What you just wrote is so wrong on so many levels…giving to charity, to foodbanks, to church is every person’s responsibility, to humanity itself. There are many, many reasons people need help in this world, not just because they’re lazy, or expect something for nothing as you seem to think. This is about something WAY bigger than you and me. I don’t believe I’ve ever read anything so cold-hearted in my life. God help you.

David Allen
9 days ago

Those that have been doing this for a while, all seems to have worked and planned for their older years. Now days all people want is to avoid responsibility, get paid for doing nothing, and holding their hands out for someone else to give to them. Those that are doing this failed themselves. I hate it when I see a camp host that is using RV’ing as a means of support. They typically have rotten attitudes, think everyone owes them, and are generally NOT the best hosts. I would much rather see a camp host that wants to be there, enjoys the duty, and is in fact an RV’er. Not some person living in an RV. Look at all the people buying and going full time now. They sit back and complain how WalMart is failing them because they are stopping people from staying in their parking lots. People brag on social media that they are “full time” and never pay for a campsite. Disgusting.

cee
9 days ago
Reply to  David Allen

You are kinda mean and angry. It can be a heavy burden to judge.

Charlene Pierce
9 days ago

Ah the 21st century “Grapes of Wrath”

James LaGasse
9 days ago

It seems that whether it is the news or magazines or books the whole truth suffers. We are being bombarded with the worst that society has to offer, when all you see is what is what’s wrong with the world the whole world seems evil and unredemptive. Is it because that is what sells, are people today just focusing on what is evil, have we been trained to seek the worst in everything. I find it very depressing and no longer watch or read mainstream media, I go to the web and search the news for myself and the world isn’t such a bad place after all.

Tommy Molnar
9 days ago
Reply to  James LaGasse

“because that is what sells”, That pretty much sums it up, James.

Dan
9 days ago
Reply to  James LaGasse

I couldn’t agree more. I have almost lost all faith in the credibility of news media. Remember the tabloids that used to adorn the cash registers at the grocery store? They had headlines such as “I was abducted by alien sasquatch”. It looks like even the mainstream news has fallen into the notion that people want exploited news, and the advertisers will pay for it. We need reporters, not exploiters with an opinion. I could go on……I am in no way judging the book because I havent read it. I’m just commenting on what passes for news these days. I guess I will go order the book now.

Linda Pence
9 days ago
Reply to  James LaGasse

For contrast, I read a number of foreign news sites. More and more I see we are all the same. It is eye opening to see what the rest of the world thinks of the US without all the competing party vitriol. We are mired too deep to see the sky.

Linda Pence
9 days ago

I read this book and it appeared to me that she never really embraced the full spectrum of reasons some Americans hit the road. Granted it was written during the recent recession so while in the midst of that hardship it is easy to see only that.
The book would have felt more balanced and less social justice preachy if she had spent some time with others of various financial situations.
A bit more focus on the freedom and joy living as a nomad brings would have been a balance. She may have in her view “exposed” a sad underground lifestyle all the while putting forth the narrative that nomads are a put upon, hopeless roving group of society’s ignored people. I don’t think the book was of service to those she wrote about.

Dee Nugent Steele
9 days ago
Reply to  Linda Pence

I also read the book and feel it was rather one sided. Interesting and well written, but she ignores many in the lifestyle. Of course, that could have been intentional.

Keith
9 days ago

Wow, I had to read this article twice. It sounds very much like the wife and I. You see we lived in a family unit that was my father his brother ( my uncle) my wife and I. Through all of our pooling of our monies we lived a fairly comfortable life. We took care of all of their needs. Dad left us in 2017 and a uncle soon after. Dad left no will and no way for us to buy the house. We decided we could se the USA one of our dreams. So we bought a used class A. It looked great! Except the motor blew up after 3 mos.A friend sol dc is a 1993 5th wheel, after a year camping in her front yard and numerous repairs to the trailer, we are about to venture out again! We had way too many side trails along the way to make it road worthy and we planned on doing some workcamping to supplement our income and see some of the sights we want to see. It until we can be sure our set up will get us there we will wait for the next stimulus check before we venture out.

David Allen
9 days ago
Reply to  Keith

Exactly the problem. “We will wait for the next stimulus check to venture out”.

Donald N Wright
9 days ago

Nomadland sounds like an interesting book. It is what American has become with underfunded pensions and the cost of living.

Eileen Brown
9 days ago

Yes, I agree – the virtual collapse of company-funded pensions, and the resultant breakdown of a “loyal” relationship between employer and employee are gone. We consider ourselves very lucky to be perhaps one of the last age cohorts with a secure, private pension. That said, we are new full timers about to try our hand as volunteer camp hosts at a state park, just for the experience. Again, lucky to have the luxury of choice.

Sharon B
9 days ago

It sickens me how big buck companies have destroyed the pension plans through greed.
However, if we are taught early and brainwashed early to save and buy ONLY what we need people would be in a better place financially. Don’t blame the media…they are a paid business to promote sales. But sense and sensibility starts from the home too so we MUST start to save early and not depend on that retirement plans. AND hang those who steal from those plans like ENRON. The CEOs ran away with murder and their millions should have been spread to the employees.

Charles Yaker
2 years ago

Welcome to America . Government policy since Reagan has destroyed. What once was a thriving middle class. The Government was our friend now it’s been taken over by cannibals. There is a way back but it requires dispelling ignorance and adopting sound money policies
https://moslereconomics.com/2009/12/10/7-deadly-innocent-frauds/

Kevin
2 years ago

While I have not read the book it sounds like the author is looking at the “mobile” version of those folks who live in “cheap” apartments. Both groups are economically disadvantaged, but one has more mobility than the other group. The mobile group might not have strong family ties.

Karen
2 years ago

It seemed to me that Bruder really wasn’t writing about “Fulltime RV’ing” per se, but about the economic reality in this country for many persons approaching or in retirement, as well as for young people just starting out. Certainly, if one didn’t know about the many fulltimers who are doing well, I suppose one could get the impression that they’re all poor (although I recall that she did mention that there are those who simply choose the lifestyle out of interest). But she did make it clear that there are many who choose the lifestyle to cut costs, and there are a surprising number of older folk still needing to work in order to make ends meet after a lifetime of working. She also did a great job documenting the economic plight of young people today, many of whom are choosing to live out of vans. She also went over the history of nomadic life during the Depression. While the realities of life for her subjects might make for “feel bad” reading, I found myself inspired by the “can do” attitude of her subjects. It actually gave me hope. It was a great read (or listen, in my case).

David Allen
9 days ago
Reply to  Karen

There is such a HUGE difference in Full Time RV’ing and living full time in an RV. The latter is a smaller version of living in a mobile home. Even the campgrounds they stay in are looking more and more like trashy mobile home parks.

Glenn
2 years ago

An excellent read. I found it very interesting and enjoyed her writing.