Is this era 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 who find that their social security comes up short when compared to the underwater on mortgage. So, 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 nomadic retirees. these migrant laborers call themselves “workampers.”
We follow Jessica Bruder along frequently traveled routes between seasonal jobs. She 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 calls “Van Halen,” Bruder hits the road to get to know her subjects more intimately. Accompanying Linda May and others from campground host to warehouse product scanning to desert reunions with in Quartzsite, Arizona with friends on the same “retirement” track who move between beet harvesting and Amazon seasonal worker.
Bruder tells a compelling, eye-opening expose of the dark underbelly of the American economy—one that foreshadows the precarious future that may await many more older citizens. 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.