I feel you. My wife and I travel to the US once or twice a year, and do want continuous connectivity. My experience: pay-as-you-go for data sucks in the US. Coverage is a problem. Americans can't call non-US numbers. If you want to use your cell connection as a broadband replacement, expect to pay through the nose.
Since some of our family live in the boondocks, T-Mobile and Sprint are not really an option, and even AT&T coverage is spotty. Having driven extensively through "fly over" country, Verizon seems to be the only provider with close to full coverage. As others have pointed out here, if you're mostly staying in cities (100k+), you might be OK with the others as well.
For the last four years, we had a Mifi on contract ($50/month), with 5G of data. Until this year, Verizon allowed suspending the contract when we were out of the country, and re-activating it just before we got to the US again. Unfortunately, the suspension is now limited to a max. of 90 days per year. Since most of our friends and family don't have international calls enabled on their contracts, they can't call our European numbers. So we did continue to have an AT&T Go SIM ($100/year to keep the account active). As others have pointed out, the pay-as-you-go options don't have international roaming enabled, or might not even offer it (boo AT&T), so dealing with that from abroad can be a pain. Before that, we tried various options, including VirginMobile (uses Sprint) and T-Mobile.
We've now convinced a friend to get us on his family plan with Verizon, and we have one iPhone (incl. tethering) on there for $15/month. We're sharing his 12GB data, which is good enough for our purposes. Since the phone is on contract, international roaming is available. We did buy the phone, so there's no SIM lock on it, and we can use it with other SIMs.
While in the US, we use about 1GB per week. Most nights, we're somewhere where we have Wifi, so it's mostly on the move usage (navigation in the car, music, FB posts, etc.) Hotel wifi mostly sucks, so when we're staying in a hotel, we're using the cell data. For large downloads or uploads, we try and wait until we're back on Wifi, but I've been syncing my photos and videos with iCloud and Dropbox as I'm taking them, so we're not completely constraining ourselves.