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The end of retirement?
From the beet fields of North Dakota to the National Forest campgrounds of California to Amazon’s CamperForce program in Texas, employers have discovered a new, low-cost labor pool, made up largely of transient older Americans. Finding that social security comes up short, often underwater on mortgages, these invisible casualties of the Great Recession have taken to the road by the tens of thousands in late-model RVs, travel trailers, and vans, forming a growing community of nomads: migrant laborers who call themselves “workampers.”
On frequently traveled routes between seasonal jobs, Jessica Bruder meets people from all walks of life: a former professor, a McDonald’s vice president, a minister, a college administrator, and a motorcycle cop, among many others—including her irrepressible protagonist, a onetime cocktail waitress, Home Depot clerk, and general contractor named Linda May.
In a secondhand vehicle she christens “Van Halen,” Bruder hits the road to get to know her subjects more intimately. Accompanying Linda May and others from campground toilet cleaning to warehouse product scanning to desert reunions, then moving on to the dangerous work of beet harvesting, Bruder tells a compelling, eye-opening tale of the dark underbelly of the American economy—one that foreshadows the precarious future that may await many more of us. At the same time, she celebrates the exceptional resilience and creativity of these quintessential Americans who have given up ordinary rootedness to survive. Like Linda May, who dreams of finding land on which to build her own sustainable “Earthship” home, they have not given up hope.
287 pages, Kindle Edition
First published September 19, 2017
Being human means yearning for more than subsistence. As much as food or shelter, we require hope.For many years now, a growing population of Americans have been forced to live in mobile homes and vehicles due to their inability to make mortgages or rent. These Americans, made up mostly of the elderly, have limited choices when it comes to jobs, but cannot afford to retire. So they drive across the country looking for seasonal work to make ends meet and to supplement their meager social security incomes. Nomadland is their story.
"We're facing the first-ever reversal in retirement security in modern U.S. history," she explained. "Starting with the younger baby boomers, each successive generation is now doing worse than previous generations in terms of their ability to retire without seeing a drop in living standards."
“Americans now fear outliving their assets more than they fear dying.”
"The most widely accepted measure for calculating income inequality is a century-old formula called the Gini coefficient. It's a gold standard for economists around the globe, along with the World Bank, the CIA, and the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. What it reveals is startling. Today the United States has the most unequal society of all developed nations. ”
"The top 1 percent now makes eighty-one times what those in the bottom half do, when you compare average earnings. For American adults on the lower half of the income ladder—some 117 million of them—earnings haven't changed since the 1970s."
"There have always been itinerants, drifters, hobos, restless souls. But now, in the second millennium, a new kind of wandering tribe is emerging. People who never imagined being nomads are hitting the road. They're giving up traditional houses and apartments to live in what some call "wheel estate"—vans, secondhand RVs, school buses, pickup campers, travel trailers, and plain old sedans. They are driving away from the impossible choices that face what used to be the middle class."
“The capitalists don't want anyone living off their economic grid.”
“Vandwellers are conscientious objectors from a broken, corrupting social order.”
“Many hoped life on the road would be an escape from an otherwise empty future.”