In the mythology of the American Dream, retirement is supposed to be synonymous with leisure. Not so for the tens of thousands of Americans whose safety nets were decimated after the 2008 recession; in order to find work, many of them are leaving their homes and hitting the road in RVs, trailers and other makeshift mobile dwellings.
Journalist Jessica Bruder profiles this cohort in her new book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century. In many ways, she explains, their existence resembles those who fled the Dust Bowl in the Great Depression. To make ends meet, these formerly middle-class senior citizens take seasonal jobs as sugar-beet harvesters, Amazon warehouse workers and campground maintenance employees, moving on whenever a job dries up.
“There is hope on the road,” Bruder writes. Of course, hope alone can’t trump the realities of aging. As these nomads get older, they remain in search of a more sustainable solution.
This appears in the September 25, 2017 issue of TIME.
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