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The risks, problems and opportunities of life and work on the road

From the beetroot fields of North Dakota, to the Amazon CamperForce program in Texas, employers have discovered a new source of low cost labour made up of elderly American nomads. People from all walks of society, invisible victims of the Great Recession, who got behind the wheel of a camper, caravan, or van and joined the nomad community. Jessica Bruder followed them closely for three years, living for long periods in a van, and in her book, Nomadland, she tells the enlightening tale of the dark underbelly of the American economy. She also celebrates the resilience and creativity of these people, who have to keep on moving just to survive.

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The new nomads that are “surviving” America: not homeless, but houseless

Vagabonds have been around forever, and go by many different names: nomads, wanderers, homeless people, or simply restless souls. But today a new type of wandering tribe is emerging in the United States. People who never imagined they would be nomads are setting out on the open road. There's a former San Francisco cab driver who unloads trucks full of sugar beets, a former McDonald's vice president, who lost his home, and now sells beer and burgers at baseball games, and a former software executive who lost his savings in the 2008 crash, and was left homeless after his divorce: he now lives with his dog in a 1990 Airstream, and works in an Amazon warehouse. And there are other nomads who harvest raspberries in Vermont, apples in Washington and blueberries in Kentucky, or guard the gates of the oil fields across Texas.

Some saw their savings wiped out by bad investments, or their retirement funds vaporised with the market crash of 2008. Others had not created a safety net big enough to weather some of life’s inevitable storms such as divorce, illness, and injury. Some were fired, others - a small percentage of the youngest - could not find the job they had studied for, despite their educational qualifications. They are all people who have given up their homes to live in vans, caravans, and motorhomes. They don't want to have to choose between food and dental care, mortgage payments and student loans. Some call them "homeless", but the new nomads reject that label: equipped with both shelter and transportation, they refer to themselves as "houseless".

Judging by their appearance, it would be easy to mistake many of them for carefree retired campers - after all, the vehicles they live and travel in are called "RVs", an abbreviation of "Recreational Vehicles". Often, they are middle class people who blend in with everyone else in cinemas or restaurants when they decide to indulge in a night out. The difference is, these people wash their clothes in laundromats, and do hard physical work to support themselves and maintain their vehicles. These people are surviving America, but for them, as for anyone else, survival is not enough, and their lifestyle choice has become a deafening cry for something greater. They need hope, and there is hope on the road. There is a sense of opportunity, a deep belief that something better will come. These people manage to survive in America thanks to an on the road community where they help each other, and where they can still feel free.


The key ideas of "Nomadland"

The new nomads that are “surviving” America: not homeless, but houseless
Fixed salaries and rent increases make people feel trapped, with no hope of improvement
Pensions in the twenty first century are an almost impossible dream for many Americans
The biggest seasonal work program for nomads: CamperForce by Amazon
From blogs to large gatherings such as the “Rubber Tramp Rendezvous”: how the new community of nomads feed themselves
Most nomads are white: for black people, this choice of lifestyle might be risky
Take-home message
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