'Workampers': What It's Like to Wander Around the Country in an RV Desperately Looking for Work
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Where are the jobs? That question is on the minds of millions of Americans who have lost jobs during the Great Recession. During this historically lean jobs creation period, finding a new job often requires thinking outside the box. And you can’t think much further outside the job search box than "workamping" -- also known as work-camping.
“The RV's kitchen slide broke in Eutaw, Alabama, which is in the middle of the middle of nowhere. We managed. We were stuck in the mud in Clarksdale, Mississipi during a launch party for the anthology, Delta Blues. The tow truck driver who pulled our rig out of the mud jackknifed it and broke out the pickup's rear window. Guess I can add my broken wrist to the list of oopsies.”
That’s how Suzann Ellingsworth described a couple of days in the workamping life she shares with her husband, Dave, as they drive their RV through the southern and plains states looking for work.
According to Workamper.com, a workamper is “an adventurous individual who has chosen a wonderful lifestyle that combines ANY kind of part-time or full-time work with RV camping. If you work as an employee, operate a business, or donate your time as a volunteer, AND you sleep in an RV (or on-site housing), you are a Workamper. Workampers generally receive compensation in the form of a free campsite, usually with free utilities (electricity, water, and sewer hookups) and additional wages.”
Calling it a “wonderful lifestyle” seems a bit over the top for some workampers. After communicating with Suzann for more than six months and observing the Ellingsworth’s ups and frequent downs, it’s obvious that workamping is not all fun and games, at least for those who hit the road in need of a job to survive.
Most workamper jobs are of the minimum-wage variety. Workampers generally don’t receive unemployment insurance benefits, severance pay or any warning that a job is about to end. Workampers face many of the same job insecurity issues as the millions of Americans who have been downsized due to job outsourcing, financial mismanagement and slow consumer demand for products and services, except workampers are purposely more nimble and have been conditioned to pack up and move to where the jobs are. “We have to be mobile to land a job,” said Suzann. Those who become jobless and live in traditional stationary homes aren’t usually able to move to another city on a moment’s notice.
Since workamping is a nomadic lifestyle, it’s difficult to collect a headcount. Steve Anderson, president of Workamper.com, said the most recent workamper survey is from KOA, but it is dated: “Nearly 10 years ago the KOA Corporation gave an estimate that 750,000 were living the workamping lifestyle. Their data was questioned then and at best was an estimated guess. Over the years we have seen our membership remain in the 14,000 range with thousands of others in the dreaming stages of workamping. It is very transitional lifestyle, meaning folks begin and end the lifestyle every day.”
“More people are turning to workamping as a way to earn money,” said Jaimie Hall Bruzenak, RVlifestyleexperts.com founder and author of Support Your RV Lifestyle! An Insider's Guide to Working on the Road. “I would say it is mixed, though. Some are the traditional retired couples who want to either earn a little money or get a free site while having the chance to travel and stay in beautiful places. There are also those who have been hit with the downturn -- either they don't have enough retirement income to live on or perhaps lost their jobs and look to workamping as an alternative way to make a living. There are people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who choose this lifestyle. My late husband and I were 47 when we started.”