How One Couple Is Changing Views of America's Hourly Workers

Heath Padgett sits atop the RV he and his wife Alyssa use for the
Facebook/Hourly America

For 23-year-old Heath Padgett, the traditional transition from college to the workforce wasn't panning out the way he had hoped. A recent graduate of Concordia University in Texas, Padgett found himself working for a software company. He enjoyed the work, but he was looking for something more. After some thinking, Heath and his fiancée (now wife) Alyssa decided to turn their dream of seeing all 50 states into a reality with a purpose.

So began Hourly America -- a journey through all 50 states, one seven-and-a-half hour shift at a time.

The couple spruced up a 20-year-old motorhome and planned to hit the road just a few days after their wedding. After some initial hourly job searching in his first state, New Mexico, Heath noticed that SnagAJob was a destination for the work he was trying to land.

Padgett met with the company and they signed on as a sponsor, providing Alyssa with camera equipment to document the entire journey.

Along the way, the duo has met many personalities in a lot of occupations.
One particularly eye-opening experience occurred in Portland, Oregon. While working at the Portland Art Museum, Heath shadowed a 62-year-old maintenance worker, Bryce, who had bounced around a few jobs over the years.

During their talks, the friendly and eccentric Bryce recalled how his school administrators had kicked him out of school in second grade because they thought he was mentally retarded. They told him he should tend to livestock because he couldn't get an education.

Turns out Bryce would become one of the first case studies for dyslexia in the United States. It took him a long time to overcome the stigma. As Heath points out, "People in every kind of job have something going on in their lives."

Hourly America is not looking to do exposes, rather it's about sharing the tales of everyday people who hold jobs that don't get much recognition. (This Built America is doing that same thing for AOL.)

See More Made in the USA Stories

In Chicago, Heath worked at Pizza Rustica restaurant where he experienced the difficulty of working on your feet all day. What one worker there told him: "People have had this idea for the past 50 or 60 years of this term that the customer is always right. That's just not true. If you treat our employees bad we're going to ask you to leave. We're going to be respectful ... but be nice to our people or leave."

Heath loved that mentality. "We need to have a shift in the way we perceive people in service," he told AOL Jobs. "No, you're not always right if you're a customer. You have to be respectful. It goes both ways."

An aspiring writer and entrepreneur, Heath hopes his stories will help develop empathy for the hourly workforce -- noting that each person has a different reason for why they are in their position. "The vast majority of people I've met are in jobs that they've accepted lower pay for and have walked away from jobs that would pay them higher money. They'd rather enjoy the work they're doing." Yet, many in service jobs still face pressure from their peers and family to find "real work."

For Heath and Alyssa, the journey has been one that opens their eyes at every stop.

"It's all part of a working system," says Heath. "Everybody needs jobs. We can't advocate for jobs and say some aren't as good. Everyone plays on the team."

See More Made in the USA Stories
Read Full Story