The Real Reason Many Retirees Are Choosing to Live in RVs Isn’t What You Think

Easing into retirement and enjoying the golden years doesn’t come easily for everyone. While many retirees are able to make ends meet on a fixed income and avoid a major lifestyle change, others are simply not prepared. And despite the keen awareness of the inevitability of aging, much of the graying American population is left scrounging for minimum wage work to supplement Social Security checks each month.

In many cases, the ill-prepared baby-boomers are able to nest with family members. However, in other cases, they are left to fend for themselves. Unbeknownst to many Americans, the geriatric camp hosts and nomadic RV dwellers you see living a lifestyle of freedom may just be trying to make ends meet. Here are the real reasons why some retirees are living out of RVs. 

1. Living out of an RV is all they can afford on Social Security

man holding social security card in his hand

Social Security doesn’t pay enough for some retirees to live on. | KenTannenbaum/iStock/Getty Images

At the age of 62, the average Social Security benefits equal a little over $12,000 per year. By the time a retiree reaches 70 that amount will have increased to an average of about $15,000 per year. However, for Linda May of Arizona, her Social Security benefits each month were only $499, according to an article in Harper’s. As May struggled to make ends meet, she opted for RV dwelling.

NextThe lingering effects of the Great Recession

2. They lost everything during The Great Recession

frowning piggy bank

The Great Recession wiped out some people’s retirement savings. | iStock/Getty Images

When The Great Recession of the late 2000s ensued, it was the baby boomers who absorbed the bulk of its fury. And the reasons why are clear. Individuals in their late 50s and early 60s who had rightfully prepared for their golden years, suddenly watched their retirement savings and the values of their homes fall out from underneath them. Furthermore, those nearing retirements were caring for their elders while simultaneously striving to get their young-adult kiddos off the teat.

NextFinding full-time work is tough.

3. Real full-time work is hard to find

job seekers

Some older workers have struggled to find new full-time jobs. | John Moore/Getty Images

The unfortunate reality for many older workers is that they aren’t considered a lucrative or favorable hire. And even though age discrimination is illegal, the above 55-year-olds can’t seem to get their feet back in the door post-recession. Furthermore, while the overall unemployment rate is expected to hover around 4% in 2018, the 55-64 year-olds unemployment rate is much higher at 12 percent. This poorly dealt hand has a lot of the older population folding.

Next: Turning to Amazon for help

4. Amazon’s Camperforce provides a place to park and work

amazon boxes

Some RV-dwelling retirees get temporary jobs in Amazon’s warehouses. | Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Many retirees who have opted out of homeownership in exchange for lower living costs in RVs are taking advantage of Amazon’s Camperforce work opportunities. Workampers, as they are called, take temporary jobs at Amazon’s fulfillment centers across the country. In return, Workampers receive a free place to park their RVs, an hourly pay around $11, plus overtime pay. Workampers work the Amazon temporary job circuit, traveling across the country to fulfill orders for high-demand times around the holidays.

Next: Making ends meet with seasonal work 

5. Seasonal work around the country helps to make ends meet

RV trailer in the badlands

Nomadic retirees may travel the country in search of work. | Kent Weakley/iStock/Getty Images

It’s not just Amazon’s Camperforce where geriatrics are finding work. When the temporary jobs fizzle out after the holidays, RV dweller opt for a different kind of seasonal work circuit. Do you recall the kind, gray-haired camp hosts at national park campgrounds? Those are the jobs being snapped up by RVers looking for work. And when it’s time to move on, many RVers will cruise the country picking seasonal harvests for farmers, staffing theme parks, and working NASCAR events.

Next: Retreating to the desert in the winter months

6. When work dies down and temperatures drop, RVers retreat to the desert

mobile home sign

Some retirees call their RV home. | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

The seasonal work inevitably dies down, and that usually happens after the holidays in the dead of winter. Temperatures drop below freezing, making RV living an entirely different beast. These circumstances call for warmer climates with low living costs, and the Workampers know where to go. They go to the Sonoran desert in Quartzsite, Arizona. Hundreds of thousands of RVers congregate on the public lands to soak up the warm sunshine and live for practically nothing.

NextThe consequences of not preparing for retirement 

7. The repercussions of never preparing for retirement are real

RV recreational vehicles at Walmart

An RV parked in a Walmart parking lot. | crwpitman/iStock/Getty Images

While many baby boomers lost their pensions or had to file bankruptcy as a result of the recession, others opted out of saving for retirement altogether. In fact, 41% of baby boomers have absolutely no retirement savings. More surprisingly, 30% of individuals heading into retirement still have a mortgage to pay. These factors combined are forcing baby boomers to sell their homes, buy an RV, and search for work on the open road.

Next: You’d be surprised at the options retirees have.

8. There are a surprising amount of locations to choose from

Walmart allows RV parking on a store-by-store basis. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

How does sleeping in a Walmart parking lot sound?

A recent article in The New York Times called “Overnight in Walmart Parking Lots: Silence, Solace and Refuge” featured photographs taken in the summer of 2017 by photographers Mike Belleme and George Etheredge. The two slept in a cargo van for several nights in different Walmart parking lots in the South.

In the FAQ section on Walmart’s website, the retailer explains why it allows people to park RVs in its parking lots overnight:

While we do not offer electrical service or accommodations typically necessary for RV customers, Walmart values RV travelers and considers them among our best customers. Consequently, we do permit RV parking on our store parking lots as we are able. Permission to park is extended by individual store managers, based on availability of parking space and local laws. Please contact management in each store to ensure accommodations before parking your RV.

Next: Hope for the future?

9. The end goal for some is brighter than others

man and woman enjoying retirement at a beach

Some roaming retirees do plan to eventually settle down. | iStock/Getty Images

So what happens when Workampers can no longer roam the floors of Amazon’s fulfillment centers or handle the duties required to be a camp host? As for May, she plans to buy up a $5,000, four-acre plot of land in Arizona and build a home made of recycled materials called an Earthship. As for other RV dwellers, retreating to Rainbow’s End, a Texan trailer park with medical facilities nearby, may be one of the very few options.

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