Economy of America in “Nomadland” by Jessica Bruder

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Nomadland, by Jessica Bruder, unearths the truth about America in terms of its economy. It always seems as if most of the country has achieved the American Dream, but in reality, a dream is exactly what it is. The middle class is becoming inexistent, resulting in only the lower and the upper class in the country. It is impossible to survive in America without a job, and retirees would be the ones to vouch for that.

Bruder reported the stories of both retirement aged people and those approaching it who were apart of the recreational vehicle, or RV, subculture.

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They are referred to as nomads, and the majority of them were affected by the Great Recession of 2008. People in this subculture turn their recreational vans into homes while still travelling in them to avoid typical house mortgages and bills they cannot afford. The people reported had either did not have a pension plan (money set aside by employers for retirement during the time an employee is working), Social security checks that were not enough to afford monthly expenses, labored the majority of their lives and were incapable of making enough money to live off of after retirement, or lost their jobs during the economic downturn and were not able to claim a new one. This leads to loss of many things, including a home.

The retirees traveled in their RV’s in search of seasonal and/or part-time labor. Unfortunately, they were low paying jobs. Examples of this included stocking positions in at Amazon’s warehouses, hamburger selling, strawberry piacking, and sugar beet harvesting. Nevertheless, they salvage their optimism. They did not consider themselves homeless; just houseless, which had seemed better for them in terms of financial stability due to cutting back on bills. After reading the text, there are a number of sociological terms that can be applied.

One of the sociological terms that can be applied is social inequality. Social inequality is when the most qualified people are attracted to the most important occupations in a society. This contributes to inequality of wealth, income, and other beneficial things. Linda May, a 64-year-old, was one of the subjects discussed in the book.

May considered herself a proletariat, a person who has always been part of the working class, but as previously mentioned – these jobs were low paying. She had numerous jobs in life which included being a manager at a carpet and tile shop, a trucker, being a Home Depot cashier, I.R.S telephone representative, and as a cigarette girl at a casino. Other than the warehouse jobs and the beet harvesting, she has looked over campgrounds and picked apples. Noticeably, the cycle of low paying jobs had not been broken.

It is most likely that May had been part of a caste system. A caste system can be defined as a system in a society where people are ranked and rewarded based off of their ascribed characteristics – which are characteristics one cannot choose about themselves. This includes age, gender, and nationality. People in lower castes are identified as unintelligent, immoral, unambitious, and other negative traits no one would want to be associated with – especially when one is a proletariat. In this case, one of the contributing factors to May being a part of a caste system is obviously her age. Her jobs seem as though they are leftovers after the younger people – especially those of higher class who are labeled as physically capable, smart, ambitious, and other positive traits that contributes to a sense of superiority – gets rewarded with the better jobs based off of their ascribed characteristics.

Another sociological term that is applicable to the text is conflict theory. Conflict theory can be defined as tension that arises in a society in result of social inequality. The jobs the nomads were given consisted of strenuous tasks, especially in Amazon’s CamperForce program. The employees were not paid fairly for their hard work.

They referred to themselves as “Amazombies” during this program in result of the labor. A couple of them had to walk 15 miles, lift 50 pounds, and work in 90-degree heat. If they were capable somehow of doing job tasks like this, it is not fathomable how they are deemed unqualifiable for higher paying positions that offer a reasonable amount of labor. This was most likely because the people knew the nomads were desperate for employment and some type of income, so the subjects’ labor had been exploited. While in this program, they specifically targeted people of the RV subculture around Christmas time then lays them off once the holiday passes. Amazon received federal tax credit for hiring the nomads.

All of this contributes to yet another applicable term: sociological imagination. Sociological imagination can be defined as the way the mind enables people to understand how remote and impersonal social forces (when people affected by these social forces have no part in creating them) configure their life story or biography. Furthermore, sociological imagination gives people the ability to determine what an issue is, and what a trouble is. The cause of a trouble typically derives from loss of income while the causes of an issue derives from larger social forces exceeding any effort and ability of the person.

The benefit of having sociological imagination is that one is capable of understanding the connection between larger social forces and their daily activities. This furthermore leads to them being informed about the many people who endure similar situations as them, as well as being capable of reacting appropriately to the larger social forces that have an influence on their lives. The nomads are aware of the situation, and they are making the best out of it by living and traveling in their RV’S. While on the road, they come into contact with other nomads and develop long-lasting friendships.

This text is significant because it gives insight into how life could be after retirement. The American Dream is quite the unachievable one, and it seems as if it has morphed into investing into a RV and transforming it into a multipurpose vehicle – for a house, and for traveling – in order to survive while living off of retirement funds and/or acquiring low paying, part-time labor. It also gives younger people the opportunity to do all they can to prepare for once that time arrives. My outlook on the future of labor in the United States have become quite bleak after reading the book. According to Bruder’s foreword, a 38-year-old woman in New Bern, North Carolina had difficulty obtaining a job with her master’s degree.

This portion specifically related to me because currently, I am a 21-year-old North Carolinian student working towards my Bachelor of Science in Psychology. After this, I plan to attend graduate school to obtain my master’s degree in either Counseling, Psychology, or Marriage and Family Therapy (which is what I am striving to do with my life). Other than winding up alone, my top fear is financial instability. As scholars, we are informed that furthering your education is the key to success in this country, yet it seems as if Bruder debunked this theory when reporting the lifestyle of this specific woman.

Knowing that there’s a possibility of financial instability after the numerous years of hard work, time, and money that will be invested into my master’s degree breaks my heart. Possessing a degree from graduate school is supposed to open the most doors for people in the professional world, yet this woman is living in a “teardrop-style trailer – so small it can be pulled with a motorcycle (p. 6)” because she “can’t find a job despite filling out hundreds of applications in the past month alone (p.6)”. Ultimately, this leads to her not being able to pay off her student loans, which I am sure I will accumulate a lot of. If I were to settle for a part-time job until I could find better, not paying my student loans could lead to garnishing what small amount of money I would receive from it, thus making it even more complicated to survive. I can only hope for the best, because I do not plan on ending up in a teardrop shaped trailer. I have my own version of the American Dream I plan on achieving, but is it possible before and after retiring after years of master’s level employment?

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Economy of America in "Nomadland" by Jessica Bruder. (2021, May 17). Retrieved from