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 at Amazon.com.