Politics. Sociology. Nonfiction. From the beet fields of North Dakota to the wilderness campgrounds of California to an Amazon warehouse in Texas, people who once might have kicked back to enjoy their sunset years are hard at work. Underwater on mortgages or finding that Social Security comes up short, they're hitting the road in astonishing numbers, forming a new community of nomads: RV and van-dwelling migrant laborers, or "workampers." Building on her groundbreaking Harper's cover story, "The End of Retirement," which brought attention to these formerly settled members of the middle class, Jessica Bruder follows one such RVer, Linda, between physically taxing seasonal jobs and reunions of her new van-dweller family, or "vanily." Bruder tells a compelling, eye-opening tale of both the economy's dark underbelly and the extraordinary resilience, creativity, and hope of these hardworking, quintessential Americans?many of them single women?who have traded rootedness for the dream of a better life.
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This book is copyrighted 2017, and things have only gotten worse.
In my town, Novato, CA, there have been a long string of RVs along Airport Road for a few years now. And a homeless encampment around our public library. I
This book details the shame of the United States, its people being unable to afford housing. "Nomads", "houseless", or folks living in "wheel estate" because they can't afford a “stick-and-brick” home, or even the rent. They have to decide what they can pay for - food or dental work, mortgage or electricity, rent or student loan, warm clothes or gas to get to work? "When do impossible choices start to tear people - a society - apart?" Can’t get a raise? Live in your vehicle... You can be a workamper, “...modern mobile travelers who take temporary jobs around the U.S. in exchange for a free campsite...”! Fun, huh? Like “Grapes of Wrath” fun! But instead of picking fruit, a lot of these poor folks end up picking packages in Amazon warehouses. Which sounds tough too - “If I can do the Army, I can do Amazon.” And Amazon “reaps federal tax credits” for hiring them! SMH.
Interesting how white privilege is part of this. Of course it is. Another, even worse, shame of the United States.
I want to go to Quartzsite.
“These mobile shelters are everywhere - an invisible city, hidden in plain sight.”
So in seemingly endless narrative the author bemoans the "woe is me" plight of these poor folks as they drudge around the country in there dilapidated vans and RV's looking for scraps of drudge work, often provided by the commercial "Big Brother", Amazon. She befriends and comes back again and again to Linda who is like the poster woman for the down trodden and destitute retirement age persons scraping to get by.
Yes the stories and predicaments are heart rendering. Yet when you look at how our society is put together and the nature of capitalism in particular these not so fortunates that are growing in number, fueled primarily by the ageing Baby Boomers is inevitable. And the chilling message really is how far are you from this reality? Chilling indeed.
Aside from the pity and lamenting, no remedies or solutions are offered to the plight; just endless anguish. So the point of the book is to mainly illustrate how tough life can become for those not prepared, but probably even more so not through their own fault but the faults of your economic systems that shows little pity for the downtrodden. It makes one misty eyed for the days of yore and the golden, or at least brass, pensions that at one time existed for many.
Finally, a thought kept drifting through my mind as I listened to the tragic tales from this author who put the spotlight on their plight. Would she contribute to help these less fortunates through her book sale receipts? Or would she pocket them herself as she rides off into the sunset in her new Escalade.
The author traveled with several of the people she profiles, getting to know them well as she shared work experiences with them all over the country. The most surprising such jobs took place in huge Amazon warehouses where elderly workers are recruited as "pickers" from the shelves to fill orders and to fill other manual tasks, tasks often requiring them to walk near 20 miles a day on hard floors while climbing 40 or 50 flights of stairs to gather material...all for $11 an hour. Some of the workers injure joints and backs to the degree that they can no longer even work for Amazon in those positions ever again - including the author herself.
Nomadland is, as I say, fascinating. But it leaves some huge questions unanswered: none of the people profile, nor the author herself, explores what is to happen to these people in another 10-15 years when they are too old to live on their own. Are they planning to die in their trailers, buses, and large cars while living behind some abandoned warehouse or on a Wal-Mart parking lot? What is this doing to our society? Are families no longer willing to take responsibility for its elders? Does the author see this as a temporary societal shift that will take care of itself as the economy finally recovers from the stagnation of the last decade? Or is society changing permanently?
I wish some of these questions had been more explored - or explored at all - but this is still an eye-opening read.
Perhaps their savings disappeared during the Great Recession, or they are officially "underwater" on their
It is also possible to get temporary employment while living in your vehicle. A person, or couple, could, for instance, spend the summer as Camp Hosts at a campsite. Then they could spend a couple of months flipping burgers for a professional baseball team during spring training. More important than the modest pay is the chance to get a safe place to park the vehicle for a time. Then there is working for Amazon; they call the vanampers their "camperforce." Not all Amazon warehouses accept them; who wants to live in a van up north during the Christmas rush? It's normal to walk the equivalent of ten or twelve miles a day at an Amazon warehouse.
There are many things to consider when living in a vehicle. The first night in your vehicle, parked in a parking lot, will be nerve-racking. You fear that any footsteps you hear will be vandals, or the police. A growing number of cities and states have taken to criminalize homelessness. If your vehicle is not set up for it, how do you go to the bathroom, or take a shower?
This is a fascinating, and eye-opening, book. Many Americans are just one layoff, or hospital stay, away from joining the "vanampers." If such a thing is in your near future, start your preparations by reading this book. It is very much worth the time.
As much an exploration of nomadic seniors, Nomadland is also a searing exploration of what goes on behind the doors at Amazon’s largest facilities. Given Amazon’s chokehold on the publishing industry, it’s a surprise they have allowed this book to exist. Of course, they are aware that even if the abysmal conditions of these facilities became known by the masses, the overwhelming majority would just say, “I can’t afford to go anywhere else.” (Which is frankly, for most us, complete bullshit.)
Bruder’s politics are implied in Nomadland, but never touched upon directly. While this separation keeps the book from becoming one-sided, it also prevents it from becoming as damning as it might have otherwise been. I’m not saying one choice was better than the other, but I do think the lack of commitment shows, preventing the book from achieving its fullest potential.
Lastly, I want to touch on Nomadland as a complete, banded work. Initially, I struggled to get into this book. The opening chapters lack a clear direction or narrative. It felt more like a string of magazine articles that were pieced together. Eventually, it does feel like Bruder found her story and begins to chase it, the random pieces gel into a semi-cohesive work. It’s not enough to really pull this narrative together, but it provides a sufficient survey of the subject.
Recommended strongly for those who like journalistic writing or are particularly interested in economics, poverty, and sociology.
Nomandland was first brought to my attention by the award winning movie, which I held off watching when I noticed it also become a " big read book" on Overdrive. I don't often read nonfiction, but I'm glad I entered into to this fascinating journalistic accomplishment by Jessica Bruder. By
Another important aspect of the book is its commentary of our changing society. The gap that exists between wealthy and the poor continues to turn into a chasm. Amazon has capitalized on these aging but uncomplaining workers, but even now in the news it is starting to get noticed for their unfavorable working expectations. “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.” This trend towards living housefree is only getting bigger and the working poor continue to grow. It certainly makes me feel appreciative about my life.
I will be curious to see the movie now, more especially because Francis McDormant will, I assume, be playing Linda May.
Workampers are modern mobile travelers who take temporary jobs around the U.S. in exchange for a free campsite—usually including power, water and sewer connections—and perhaps a stipend. You may think that workamping is a modern phenomenon, but we come from a long, long tradition. We followed the Roman legions, sharpening swords and repairing armor. We roamed the new cities of America, fixing clocks and machines, repairing cookware, building stone walls for a penny a foot and all the hard cider we could drink. We followed the emigration west in our wagons with our tools and skills, sharpening knives, fixing anything that was broken, helping clear the land, roof the cabin, plow the fields and bring in the harvest for a meal and pocket money, then moving on to the next job. Our forebears are the tinkers. We have upgraded the tinker’s wagon to a comfortable motor coach or fifth-wheel trailer. Mostly retired now, we have added to our repertoire the skills of a lifetime in business. We can help run your shop, handle the front or back of the house, drive your trucks and forklifts, pick and pack your goods for shipment, fix your machines, coddle your computers and networks, work your beet harvest, landscape your grounds or clean your bathrooms. We are the techno-tinkers.
“Jeff Bezos has predicted that, by the year 2020, one out of every four work campers in the United States will have worked for Amazon,”
A recent poll suggests that Americans now fear outliving their assets more than they fear dying.
After the New Deal, economists began referring to America’s retirement-finance model as a “three-legged stool.” This sturdy tripod was composed of Social Security, private pensions, and combined investments and savings.
All of which is to say that Social Security is now the largest single source of income for most Americans sixty-five and older.
(It’s sad—but not surprising—that teeth have become a status symbol in a country where more than one in three citizens lack dental coverage, which isn’t included with standard medical insurance.)
The satirical website “Stuff White People Like” sums it up like this: If you find yourself trapped in the middle of the woods without electricity, running water, or a car you would likely describe that situation as a “nightmare” or “a worst-case scenario like after a plane crash or something.” White people refer to it as “camping.”
When I stopped to use the restroom, the inside of my stall had a chart with a color palette ranging from pale yellow to terrifying puce. It instructed me to find the shade that matched my urine and suggested that I should be drinking more water.
“I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops,” reflected the late writer Stephen Jay Gould. A deepening class divide makes social mobility all but impossible.
Today the United States has the most unequal society of all developed nations. America’s level of inequality is comparable to that of Russia, China, Argentina, and the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Bruder spent three years following, interviewing and documenting a group of nomads. But the nomads aren't probably what you would initially think. This group
Bruder introduces us to many of the people that make up this community. And I do mean community. There are regular meet-ups, connections and on-line communications. We are privy to the details, struggles, concerns, joys, friendships, resilience and day to day lives of a few workampers over the course of three years. A woman named Linda May is the 'lead' if you will - the book follows her closely. Bruder herself goes on the road and manages to get hired on at many of the same jobs. The difference being that Bruder still has a bricks and mortar home to go to.
For some of the nomads, it's a lifestyle choice, but for most, its necessity. There are workers in their eighties. The workampers are made up of those from wide and varying backgrounds. Don't make assumptions until you read this book.
Nomadland is an absolutely eye-opening, fascinating read. But at the same time, its difficult and unsettling. I was quite stunned by how large this workforce is, the demand for these older workers, how they are used and the subculture. This is a group living unseen, right underneath society's nose if you will.
Nomadland is well written and well researched.
Before reading this book, I had visions of happy RV’ers on extended
But the reality that author Jessica Bruder found is much different. For the most part, the people she followed are living on very little cash – often social security income in the $700 per month range.
Many once had solidly middle class careers; a few had six figure incomes. But layoffs happened, and savings and pension funds disappeared. Others worked minimum wage jobs their entire lives, and as retirement age loomed, found themselves without means of support.
Now they live in a variety of camping vehicles, trailers, vans and converted buses. Most of these vehicles are older, so that the living quarters and the vehicles that pull them are also subject to a variety of breakdowns.
Their owners follow the temporary jobs; sugar beet harvests, campground hosts, temporary pre- holiday jobs at Amazon. These jobs are physically demanding, often resulting in injury with no compensation.
These modern nomads take pride in their independence and self-reliance. For the most part, they are just getting by monetarily – there is no way off this treadmill by saving a bit of money and getting back into regular housing.
They do, however enjoy strong community ties – people helping people, strong friendships and amazing gatherings, such as the winter gathering in Quartzite, Arizona.
The inadequate safety net for the elderly in the U.S. is saddening. What will happen to them when they can no longer do the demanding work?
I'll be interested to watch the movie, made with many of the original 'nomads' that Bruder interviewed.
As in the film, the book centres on Linda May’s story, but there is more space available to flesh out the background and for Bruder to tell the story of other vandwellers.
A really interesting investigation into both American vandwellers and its causes, with Bruder coming across as a responsible journalist who has taken the time to understand the issues.
Note that temperatures are quoted in Fahrenheit; as someone used to centigrade, this can be deceptive, where Nevada’s winter temperature of minus two doesn’t sound too bad, until you realise that that means minus twenty centigrade!
nomad culture/houseless migrant workers who travel around fulfilling short-term jobs rather than being weighed down by mortgage and housing debts; "Earth ship" housing "trend"; inside look : being a camp host for California BLM (lots of unpaid overtime, try not to bother
Really interesting, highly recommended.
Love the tribute to Leonard Cohen, his words matter.
Story is about Linda and she's now over 60 and on the road traveling from one location to another while finding short term work.
She had raised two girls and had even moved
She has many friends and people she runs into yearly and has a wealth of helpful information about jobs, that either she's done or knows other who have done them.
Depression sets in when you are forced to work OT but are only paid for 8 hours and when you are told it will be 40 hours a week and lucky to get 20. You can't pay bills with lower money, never mind survive.
I had watched a movie about this woman on TV and although you can't hear her thoughts you can see her actions.
I would be terrified to live the life on the road, never knowing who was going to rob you, abuse you or kill you. With pandemic I feel things have gotten worse and its everybody for themselves out there.
Raised from a frugal mother who could cook a meal and feed others not in their immediate family they joke about the lack of hamburger in the spaghetti dinner.
Love the idea of the earth ship and how you grow food in the house and you do not need any utilities hooked up, the house sustain itself.
Book is so much more entertaining, giving you the history of living in vans, rv's etc like the Okies in grapes of wrath (love this mention) traveling to areas they could survive in.
Like how others have agreed to pitch in to help her with the adventure and living off the land.
Love hearing how she progresses with her dreams, plans and her earth ship. Wonder how it turned out.....
Love how smart she is and always listening to others on how they would do things, like building a water plant, using rain for crops, etc.
Travel, learning new things, way of the world when you live on the roads and public lands, fears of trafficking drugs, how to make ends meet.
I received this book from National Library Service for my BARD (Braille Audio Reading Device).
If I had one takeaway from this book, it's that workampers are not a one-size-fits-all monolith. There are many reasons they would take to the road, from financial necessity to a desire for freedom from the rat race - or some combination of the two. They are hard-working, often debt-free, often what we'd picture as "retirement age", and mostly white. And while it's hard to pin down an exact number, there were about 300,000 when the book was published (2017), a number that seems to be growing. I found it fascinating, sometimes heartbreaking, thought-provoking - all the qualities you'd want in a book club choice. Highly recommended.
Overall, I found this an engaging read. There were a couple instances where the author defined a term that she had already defined in an earlier chapter, or reintroduced a person whom she had introduced already in he book. I was also expecting a broader sampling of people, rather than the fairly close focus on Linda, but I can't fault the book for not doing what I expected when that was clearly not the author's intention. I'd recommend this to readers of Evicted by Matthew Desmond and other books about poverty and the American experience.
The jobs they seek and hold range from janitorial/maintenance work at state and national parks during the summer, to farm work during beet harvest season, to work in one of Amazon's mammoth fulfillment centers during the buildup to the Holidays. The common factor is that the work is usually back-breaking, mind-numbing, and low-paying. In fact, Amazon relies on these workers--they have a name and a logo: "The Camper Force." One of the perks of being a Camper Force member is that Amazon provides free OTC pain relievers to these workers to relieve the pain and strain of the heavy lifting and miles walked each day. (I, for one, will be thinking of this each time I order from Amazon in the future.)
The people forced into this new economy include former blue and pink collar workers for whom Social Security is not quite enough to make it on, and also former college professors, software engineers, pastors and other theoretically middle class people. Many of them lost their savings and/or their houses in the financial crisis of 2008.
This is a very sobering book, and I fear that stories like these will become the norm as Congress marches relentlessly on its quest to demolish Social Security and Medicare with the goal of voucherizing Medicare and privatizing Social Security. However, despite the grim outlook, the people depicted in this book are for the most part hopeful and optimistic people who look on the bright side of things, which made it a pleasure to get to know them. Unfortunately, though, we don't need a dystopian novel to see where the future is headed.