This book was mentioned during the AllNonfiction Group discussion of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. It sounded intriguing and (!) it was on sale, so …
Generally, it’s a similar type of book, a study of a demographic subset of people in poverty who are essentially homeless, but Bruder’s people are generally middle class folks who have turned to traveling in RVs (of one sort or another) to work in temporary situations while living in their vehicles – for free if possible. Most are in their retirement years from their 50s and into their 80s, but there are a few younger souls. Some had been fairly successful in their working lives and fell on hard times, others had not been so successful but managed, and are now reduced to this.
Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century
by Jessica Bruder
2017/ 320 pages
read by Karen White – 9h 57m
rating: 8 / sociology – economics
Bruder calls this group the “downwardly mobile older Americans” and the demographic is growing at an alarming rate. Bruder includes the thoughts of some professionals who work in social economics as well as statistics as appropriate, but it’s mostly an ethnographic study with a less scholarly approach than Evicted.
Where Desmond focused on eight families or individuals as well as a couple of landlords living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Bruder uses a broader canvas and has sought out dozens of people to interview in Oregon, Nevada, California and Kentucky as well as other places – North Dakota. She focuses on a few people and follows them over a period of a few years.
Another difference is there is no call to action about anything in particular in Nomadland, but there is certainly a fair bit of criticism regarding some aspects of our economy – particularly, perhaps, but not solely, the giant corporation of Amazon.com.
Most of these “retired” people try to work as temporary employees in some way or another – for a park system somewhere or for Amazon in warehouses during the Christmas rush – there are other nomadic jobs available like picking sugar beets in North Dakota and most of them head south for the winter to stay in Arizona or California and attend annual gatherings of fellow-RV’ers there – and/or work.
Life is hard for these people as they have pretty severe budgets, but they try to retain a “can do” attitude with a bit of joking and making new friends and trying to keep up with old ones via web-sites.
And then I came across where she describes “Tioga George” and realize I’ve actually met this guy. My brother, a retired lawyer, lives kind of like this by choice. He told me about George and Miz Tioga (his RV) so I found George online and we communicated for awhile and he came to Porterville en route to somewhere. We had a nice little chat in a decent park here. Very interesting. He got funding via his website but that was many years ago now – maybe ten – and I have no idea what happened to him.
As I was saying, much of the book is on the upbeat side. These folks are free, made their own choices, and are making the best of hard times. But don’t let those parts fool you – Bruder gets real. She fully participates in the life for awhile and after another while things get very grim for her new friends. Many of these people have no other viable place to go. They are homeless in the eyes of most – they are often harassed and unwanted except in remote camps. And they’re getting even older, often sick, and they have to keep on doing the best they can.
Yes, race is addressed – this is almost entirely a whites only option because a non-anglo person (especially male) doing what these folks are doing would be putting himself in a very dangerous situation – not from the other “van-dwellers” necessarily, but from law enforcement.