When Nathan Kecy graduated from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire a decade ago with a bachelor's degree in communications, he found himself with about $10,000 in debt and few clear career options. He first found work as a door-to-door salesman ("a pyramid scheme," he recalls) and then in telemarketing. Finally he landed a job as an infrastructure specialist for Datamatic, a Texas-based water-meter-technology company. He was traveling across the country installing meters, making a decent salary. But he lost his job after the company restructured in 2012, he said, and soon he found that his skills weren't easily transferable to a new field; Datamatic's technology was proprietary, and his expertise in the company's installation program wasn't appealing to employers outside that particular industry. He tried going into business with a friend, but the relationship soured. By then he had a baby and a fiancée, and he felt stuck.
The village is poor, even by the standards of rural Kenya. To get there, you follow a power line along a series of unmarked roads. Eventually, that power line connects to the school at the center of town, the sole building with electricity. Homesteads fan out into the hilly bramble, connected by rugged paths. There is just one working water tap, requiring many local women to gather water from a pit in jerrycans. There is no plumbing, and some families still practice open defecation, lacking the resources to dig a latrine. There aren't even oxen strong enough to pull a plow, meaning that most farming is still done by hand. The village is poor enough that it is considered rude to eat in public, which is seen as boasting that you have food.
Forget the images of men in hard hats standing before factory gates, of men with coal-blackened faces, of men perched high above New York City on steel beams. The emerging face of the American working class is a Hispanic woman who has never set foot on a factory floor. That's not the kind of work much of the working class does anymore. Instead of making things, they are more often paid to serve people: to care for someone else's children or someone else's parents; to clean another family's home.