A Million Americans Now Live in RVs

November 15, 2018 at 3:47 pm

Over a million Americans have given up on the house and white picket fence, in search of a freer life on the road. Is #RVLife the new “American Dream”?


The number of Americans living full-time in RVs and camper vans is on the rise. While it’s impossible to get an exact count, the RV Industry Association puts it at a million.

The author of the new book “Nomadland” has followed dozens of these modern drifters around since 2013 in an effort to determine whether they actually enjoy the lifestyle or are doing it out of desperation.

“Millions of Americans are wrestling with the impossibility of a traditional middle-class existence.” Jessica Bruder writes in her new book. “In homes across the country, kitchen tables are strewn with unpaid bills,”

“Wages minus grocery receipts. Minus medical bills. Minus credit card debt. Minus utility fees. Minus student loan and car payments. Minus the biggest expense of all: rent.

“In the widening gap between credits and debits hangs a question: which bits of this life are you willing to give up, so you can keep on living?”

More and more people are cutting out the rent or mortgage (and maybe walking away from some debt while they’re at it) and purchasing tiny homes they can often pay for in cash. And more and more of those tiny homes are on wheels, giving people the freedom to explore the continent and follow the odd jobs that finance their trips.

“There’s an element of romance to this and adventure, and there’s also an element of desperation and economic necessity,” Bruder tells NPR in an interview about her book.

Via: https://winnebagolife.com/2016/03/3-hard-truths-behind-living-the-rv-lifestyle

“I think there is a large element of wanderlust in our culture, so people are pretty excited about the idea of the great American road trip. But at the same time, there are all of these financial forces that govern the choices people make.”

The primary driving force is a federal minimum wage stalled at $7.25 an hour paired with a cost of housing that climbs at a much faster rate.

There are now only a dozen counties where a full-time minimum-wage worker can afford a one-bedroom apartment, Bruder points out.


RV and van dwellers have formed a new class of laborers in our country called “workampers.”

Workampers are modern mobile travelers who take temporary jobs around the US in exchange for a free campsite – usually including power, water and sewer connections – and perhaps a stipend,” Bruder explains.

Similar to migrant workers from south of the border, they are ideal employees for large corporations.

Companies like Amazon and J.C. Penney recruit workampers to work in their warehouses during holiday season and sugar beet farmers hire them to help with harvest.

Amazon even has a special program called “CamperForce” — a labor unit made up of thousands of nomads who work 10-hour+ shifts at the companies “fulfillment centers.”

In a typical shift, employees walk more than 15 miles on concrete floors, stooping, squatting, reaching, and stair climbing as they scan, sort, and box merchandise.

When the holiday rush ends, Amazon terminates the workampers and they drive away in what the managers cheerfully call a “taillight parade.”

Jeff Bezos has predicted that by the year 2020 one 1 out of 4 workcampers will have worked for Amazon.

Other workampers pick up “gig work” selling Christmas trees and pumpkins, cleaning campsites, harvesting on farms or in vineyards, or filling in as security guards. A Facebook group called Workampers with more than 30,000 members keeps RVers posted about job opportunities.

“Workampers I spoke with had their own ways of describing themselves,” Bruder said. “Many said they were ‘retired,’ even if they anticipated working well into their 70s or 80s. Others called themselves ‘travelers,’ ‘nomads,’ ‘rubber tramps,’ or  ‘gypsies.'”

“Outside observers gave them other nicknames, from ‘the Okies of the Great Recession’ to ‘American refugees,’ ‘the affluent homeless,’ even ‘modern-day fruit tramps.’

Choice or desperation?

When Bruder first got out on the road and started talking to people, the first thing they wanted to tell her was that they chose the lifestyle.

“And then maybe four days later, if I’m still hanging around as a reporter, that’s when I hear about the foreclosure or the 401(k) that got wiped out,” she told NPR.

“So people are eager to tell you that they chose this, but their options have narrowed quite a bit in recent years.”

Four years later, “there are people who are no longer on the road. There are people who don’t know what they’ll do when they’re old enough that they can’t drive. Some of those people have no plan at all. Some of them talk about essentially driving out into the middle of the desert and calling it a day. So while I think it does feel like an escape and there’s a degree to which people feel really liberated in the moment by it, it’s not – it’s not a long-term solution.”

For the 117 million American adults on the lower half of the income ladder, earnings haven’t changed since the 1970s, Bruder notes.

“Despite mounting pressures – including a nationwide crackdown on vehicle-dwelling – America’s modern-day nomads show great resilience. But how much of that toughness should our culture require for basic membership? And when do all the impossible choices start to tear people – a society – apart? The growing ranks of folks living on the road suggest the answer might be: much sooner than we think.”