Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century

I first picked up this book because I am a nomad.  I do not have a permanent, fixed-location home.  Tom and I live in our RV full-time and move around the country.  I quickly realized this book is not about my demographic.  Nomadland is not about retirees with enough money to live as they choose.  Instead, it is an intense study of a group of people our society wants to ignore:  the working class who can’t afford to retire.

The people described in Nomadland are people who are retirement age but can’t afford to retire.  Even worse, they can’t afford to pay rent / mortgage and other living expenses at the same time.  So they choose to live “off the grid” in vans, small rvs, and even their cars.  They move from place to place and pick up seasonal work as they are able.  They get social security, but all of us know you can’t live on social security these days.

Most of the people in Nomadland have been poor all their lives.  They are not lazy.  Some of them worked two full-time jobs most of their lives.  The recession of 2008 hit them hard as they struggled to find work.  They do not expect government handouts, but they expected to be able to achieve some kind of financial stability if they worked hard.  It seems as if some kind of contract has been broken that they are not able to stop retire after years of working hard.

Jessica Bruder, the author of the book, spent a couple of years seeking out and living with this invisible demographic.  She lived in her van and became adept at living under the radar in out-of-the-way places.  Jessica met and became friends with some of the people described in the book.  She took the same seasonal jobs at a beet plant in North Dakota and at Amazon.

Nomadland is a powerful and disturbing book.  As I read it, I thought, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”  It made me think a lot about hard work and getting ahead.  I found much to admire in this group of people:  they are independent, proud, and willing to work.  I know lots of people like that.  And many of them are just one illness or job loss away from living as nomads by necessity, not choice.  This is not an easy read.  It will, however, make you think.

  • Kristine Moye

    Sad. Some studies show that the current generation will be the first in modern history that, in general, will not “do better” than their parents. I suspect even less people will be able to retire comfortably.