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Mobile workers travel the country for a paycheck

By Becky Bratu
msnbc.com

Camping season is long over in Campbellsville, Ky., but motorhomes and camper vans still fill its parking lots and motel rooms are booked for months.

When Amazon.com announced last month it was hiring for thousands of temporary positions at its Kentucky fulfillment centers for the holiday season, people from across the country converged upon the town of 10,000 in a rush to fill them.

"It’s like quick money for Christmas," Rita DeMichiel of Florida, one of the temporary workers, said. "We get in, we get out."

DeMichiel is part of a growing number of mobile job hunters who travel to Campbellsville during the holiday season with their entire families to work for $10 an hour, packing and shipping Amazon orders during 8-12 hour shifts.

"The pay is really good, it’s above minimum wage," DeMichiel said. "They pay overtime, so financially for us it was a way to make quick money and then be on our way to the next destination."

The camper vans filled with families, retirees or hard-up job seekers are becoming a holiday season staple in Campbellsville.

Ron McMahan, executive director of the Campbellsville-Taylor County Economic Development Authority, says these seasonal workers are adding dollars to local businesses.

"It’s like a three- to four-month convention," McMahan said. "These people are here eating in restaurants, they need medical services, they are shopping in retail stores, they need camper repair."

For most of the workers, hopscotching around the country for a paycheck is a lifestyle. When their work is done in Kentucky, they’ll drive their vans to the next job. Texas, Wyoming, Michigan are a few of the popular destinations for itinerant workers. Most of them hear about available jobs online or by word of mouth from other workers.

Debra and Mark Pinson traded in a three-bedroom house and a mortgage for life on the road. Their first time living in a work camp was this spring in Michigan. They now travel from job to job across the country in their RV, staying in work campgrounds rent-free.

"Well, the mortgage was $1,800 and we pay zero here," Debra Pinson said. "There are jobs out there. You just have to go out and look for them."