"As I write this," Jessica Bruder says in Nomadland, "there are only a dozen counties and one metro area where a full-time minimum wage worker can afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent" in America, where "the dream of a middle-class life has gone from difficult to impossible." Bruder spent several years following—existing herself as—one of the scores of thousands of older Americans who should be living happily in retirement but, because the social security check isn't enough and they mainly can't afford housing, ditch the mortgage or rental and buy an old RV, camper or pick-up, and take to the road in search of seasonal part-time jobs, many of them in the Orwellian warehouses of Amazon. Some are in despair, others liberated, but almost all have no choice. An eye-opening, important and very well-researched and written book.— From Richard's 2017 Picks
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.