Its been showcased as an example of true American grit, touted as a great, innovative solution to the unemployment crisis still gripping the nation. Yes, there is a new migrant worker in America, but you won’t find this one picking vegetables, fruits, breaking their back in a field, obviously of Mexican or Latin American descent; no, most of these migrants are white, former middle class. For this migrant work all you need is an RV, a willingness to live in small spaces and a job search with a nation wide outlook. So that’s what hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans are doing loading themselves into their RV’s, going where the jobs are picking up seasonal and temporary work primarily, always on the look out for the next job. One such family, consisting of husband and wife, was in the lower southwest currently, soon headed elsewhere, scheduled to be in Arizona by the first of the year and in Maine by March for seasonal work. It also represents a boom in business, a business opportunity for RV camps that have sprung up across the country to accommodate such workers, an unofficial welcome to the new face of American employment.
Like anything, this too has its down side, aside from the obvious, that all those who might want to participate don’t have an RV to live in or a reliable vehicle capable of handling all the mileage to live out of, even if it means work; safety can become a problem, similar to the way it does for vacationers using RV sites in summer, theft, vandalism, violence are all possibilities, especially in making such an existence a permanent way of life. What to do with ones money, after purchase of necessities, poses additional headache and possible threat to these type of workers; keeping a bank account is almost certainly impossible, cashing checks at banks where you are not an account holder can be complicated and utilizing check cashing services at grocery/department stores means paying some sort of fee. But leaving cash either on your person or in your camper presents other dangers. Should they find themselves in a situation where they need to buy a new, newer used RV, getting a loan is again something impossible, without a permanent address, leaving junk and salvage yards as the only alternative, usually places that operate in cash only transactions; again carrying those sums of money can be costly to their health. While the average persons choosing to embark on this type of journey seem to be husbands and wives, about the age of your average retiree, or at least over 40, presumably with a previously stable work history, younger workers, who perhaps inherited an RV, or simply desperate for employment attempting this new strategy may find they can’t get work this way either. At the same time, older workers having put in decades on a former job, holding a degree, more than one, may find an endless refrain of your overqualified here too.
Other issues come with different kinds of families; as stated, most going on this cross country search for work are your over 40’s, near retirement age folks, usually no kids, but there was one woman featured in the news piece with 3 kids managing a new way of life; footage showing her taking her kids to the park during her husbands work day, happy and content. However, not only can wrangling kids in confined spaces become a challenge, family dynamics can also become strained when siblings fight due to lacking their own personal space, when moms and dads fight for the same reason. Puberty and privacy needs develop into a concern when RV living is more than a summer vacation. Bringing kids on board changes things dramatically; safety becomes all that much more important, finding healthcare, making sure children get all their shots, traveling all over the country causes you and your child to lack a primary care doctor, which means possibly missing early signs of a larger health problem. Childcare can be another hurdle for someone only in town for weeks, a few months, if both of you need to work even living in an RV; often seasonal and temporary work only pays minimum wage. Though some were landing temp jobs at $13 an hour, factoring in length of job, higher cost of groceries, toiletries, RV camping site rental, plus the sheer amount of gas needed to get to the next job, in areas with higher costs of living, and it can still be a struggle.
Dealing with your child’s educational needs is difficult when you’re in an area a maximum of 6 months, jobs sometimes only lasting 2 weeks, then your all the way on the other side of the country for your next gig; enrolling a child in school without a permanent address is sometimes impossible, an unfortunate reality for school age victims of the recession suddenly bouncing from couch to couch with single mom or dad. Constant moving most likely will negatively impact learning as different school districts start subject curriculum in different places; different states have different standards. You see a similar trend in children of migrant farm workers who routinely miss the first 3 months of school and have to catch up; many don’t graduate high school. Although less chance for that exists in this situation, learning disabilities, delays may not be diagnosed readily, if at all, when a child is only in one school system a short time, and as children get older they need stability, a chance to make solid, lasting friendships. Home schooling your child takes extraordinary commitment, organization, time, things not always available coupled with continuing pursuit of the next job; some parents find they don’t have the “teaching gene” to give their child quality instruction, or the patients. Further most home schooling programs require kids take and receive scores on state mandated tests, hard to do when you’re moving from state to state. By the time a child reaches college age applying for grants, scholarships isn’t easy if the Pel grant staff cannot feasibly calculate income, family contribution; without extra curricular activities, indicators of a student’s personality, colleges are less interested in accepting them.
Long term effects of a modern day roving lifestyle could hold less promise than people think; what happens when they are forced settle down for health reasons, RV repairs they can’t afford? If they started out when their child was very young and by school age want to put down roots, want their older child to have a high school experience; how do they transition to being stationary presenting a rèsumè containing several “hand to mouth” temporary jobs, seasonal work? Most employers want to see consistency, want to know you can show up everyday, attributes not shown by this form of chosen job-hopping, translating into no permanent job and no choice but to continue their roaming lifestyle or go on various government assistance programs. An especially large predicament for younger workers, another drawback, workers looking to stay in one place, who thanks to their working whatever jobs were available, have suddenly amassed too many skills, now hearing the chorus of your overqualified. Retirees may have the most to lose in such a gamble, not being able to put money into a 401k, IRA or other retirement account, add to an existing one; some may have even cashed out said accounts to begin this life, after a home foreclosure, loss of an apartment. Paying your taxes to begin with in that type of environment was conundrum enough, but what happens if you settle down and the IRS starts asking questions; if several of the jobs were cash only, off the books, the IRS could attempt to go after you for tax fraud, charge you for back taxes, refuse to believe the documentation you have about jobs worked, income received.
Further, now that this trend has made the news employers just might turn down workers who appear to be engaging in such means of employment; RV camp operators are already somewhat concerned about everyone knowing the phenomenon exists and thus being inundated with people towns have neither the space for or jobs for them to work. To say nothing of what it does to local economies having transient residents verses those who move into a community utilizing more than just groceries, gas and RV parking. School systems could also be adversely effected when the children of these new and growing number of migrant workers continually enroll and remove their kids from schools nation wide, since funding is based, at least in part, on the number of students attending. Funding for other city projects could be denied based on too many or too few residents, complicated by fluctuating numbers, compounded by those who grow to like the lifestyle and intend to continue it as long as they are able. If increased violence, theft, disturbances crop up towns are eventually going to enact ordinances to keep this group of workers away, keep them from draining police resources, victim services resources, charitable organizations, emergency shelters when possessions get stolen, RV’s set on fire or driven off by perpetrators, when you require hospitalization, medical treatment.
In short, going on the type of employment search depicted here, despite its upsides of employment for the moment, getting to see the country, and for some, getting back to basics, it may be something once started that can’t be stopped, something you may not be able to get out of, even being able to demonstrate you were able to keep a job, even providing for yourself in an unconventional way, even having gained a variety of skills. Then there is the question of should people have to; should people really have to live, however modern, a nomadic lifestyle just to survive, always chasing the next job? As alarming as the traditional employment situation is, equally alarming is the positive spin placed on at least cajoling, if not out right forcing people, to at minimum, consider this life. Scarier still is calling it ingenuity, innovation, praising people for their fortitude, because this isn’t China where dorms are provided for people working in the city who came from the country, where being separated from all you knew is the norm, in the name of work, opportunity. It will be a sad day if it comes to that and currently a sadder thing that we don’t see it heading exactly there, that we aren’t trying to stop the need for it to.