Workamping: Working full or part time while living in a mobile home. A contraction of “work” and “camping.”
Workamping is the focus of “The End of Retirement,” an investigative article by Jessica Bruder in the July/August 2014 issue of Harper’s. Access is restricted to subscribers; here’s the nut graf:
They call themselves workampers, travelers, nomads, and gypsies, while history-minded commentators have labeled them the Okies of the Great Recession. More bluntly, they are geriatric migrant labor, meeting demands for seasonal work in an increasingly fragmented, temp-driven marketplace. And whatever you call them, they’re part of a demographic that in the past several years has grown with alarming speed: downwardly mobile older Americans.
Bruder accompanied a number of workampers as they traveled around the American Southwest in search of jobs near cheap or free trailer hookups. Many of them flock to Fernley, Nevada, home to one of Amazon’s vast warehouses. To attract older workers, Amazon in late 2011 created CamperForce, which Bruder calls “a graying labor corps consisting entirely of RV dwellers, many in their sixties or seventies, who work during the peak shopping season that starts in October and ends just before Christmas.” Wages start at $10 an hour, plus overtime; before official employment begins, workers go through an orientation period, called “work hardening,” to acclimate them to “ten-hour workdays spent roaming the concrete-slab floor.”
“Workamper” is a trademark, registered in 1991, of Workamper News, Inc., in Heber Springs, Arkansas, which calls itself “the #1 resource for workamping!” The Workamper.com home page makes workamping sound like a cross between a road trip and summer camp (which for some people it no doubt is):
Workampers are adventurous individuals, couples and families who have 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!
Workamper News appears not to enforce its trademark with much vigor, and it doesn’t have trademark protection for other forms of the word, such as workamping. Thus “workamper” and “workamping” are frequently used as lower-case generic terms.
For an even grimmer look at workamping than Bruder’s, see “I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave,” by Mac McClelland, published in the March/April 2012 issue of Mother Jones. (Subtitle: “My brief, backbreaking, rage-inducing, low-paying, dildo-packing time inside the online-shipping machine.”) McClelland gives her employer the pseudonym of “Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide, Inc.,” located “somewhere west of the Mississippi.” She was 31 when she did her stint; many of her co-workers were twice her age:
I can break into goal-meeting suicide pace for short bouts, sure, but I can't keep it up for 10.5 hours.
“Do not say that,” one of the workampers tells me at break. … We will be fired if we say we just can’t or won't get better, the workamper tells me. But so long as I resign myself to hearing how inadequate I am on a regular basis, I can keep this job.
McClelland’s take-home pay for her ten-and-a-half-hour day was “about $60 after taxes,” with no job security or health insurance. Bonuses for exceeding work goals were paid in company gift cards in amounts of $15 or $20.