There's nothing like a hard day's work to give someone a sense of purpose.
Sure, you may come home feeling like a puddle of a human, drained from long hours...
...but if you take pride in your work, you can plop down at home with a feeling of triumph from all you were able to achieve for the day.
Unfortunately, self-worth is not an accepted form of payment for your creditors and bill collectors. So your paycheck really matters.
But in this age of gaping inequality, many aren't earning fair wages for their labor. That's especially the case in certain lines of work. Every day, millions of people clock into jobs that both support our daily lives and are critical to the country's future.
They may not be developing the latest and greatest apps and gadgets or performing Wall Street wizardry to make money out of thin air, but they do make important contributions. And they're being grossly underpaid for it.
If you work in one of these eight jobs, here's to the prospect of a well-deserved raise:
1. Public school teachers
By 2021, the U.S. Department of Education projects that public pre-K-12 schools will enroll 91% of students in the U.S. If you really believe "children are the future," then logic would follow that, y'know, brighter students, brighter future, right? That's where teachers come in.
Though more research has to be done, an early study on the effects of paying teachers much more handsomely has shown significantly improved academic outcomes for students. So boosting public school teachers' salaries could be seen as an investment our the future.
2. Registered nurses
Median income: $66,640
Certainly compared to most U.S. workers, nurses seem to have it pretty good salary-wise. But if we look at how nursing has changed in a time of extreme health care costs and the rising care demands of an aging population, envy starts to fade.
Nurses are working longer hours and taking on more responsibility than ever before. Those with advanced nursing degrees now do work historically performed by doctors simply because it's cheaper for them to do it.
And as the frontline of patient care, modern nurses are increasingly expected to be big thinkers who can help identify answers to industry challenges through research and new technologies.
3. Farm workers
Median income: $19,330
These folks toil in the unforgiving heat of the sun to feed and clothe the rest of us. And they do it for a minimum wage — if they're lucky. Some farm workers are paid a "piece rate" or a volume-based payment (e.g., per pound, box, or basket).
If they're undocumented, as many of these workers are, they not only might not get the minimum they're due, but they may also face daily abuse and harassment by their supervisors — especially if they're women.
4. Child care workers
Median income: $19,730
Parents want the best for their kids, sometimes obsessively so. Since crating children is neither helpful nor legal, child care workers are there when parents can't be to provide little ones with a safe and nurturing developmental experience.
In the earliest years of human life, capable child care workers play an integral role in preparing kids for the challenges of being bigger kids, teenagers, and beyond. It's a big responsibility that's worthy of at least a living wage.
Median income: $31,700
When sh*t hits the fan and emergency medical situations arise, these folks are the first on the scene to help people in trouble. Paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are trained to save lives day in and day out, often in unpredictable and dangerous situations. They deserve more than what amounts to an entry-level office worker salary.
6. Home health aides
Median income: $21,380
No one wants their grandma to be that "I've fallen and I can't get up!" lady. Home health aides help to prevent that from happening. They care for those who've logged their hours, raised their families, and now need a little help living their golden years with dignity and in the comfort of their homes. Should that work not be similarly dignified with a fair wage?
7. Social workers
Median income: $45,500
They do the hard work of guiding families and individuals along life's rockiest roads. Social workers help people stay afloat emotionally, socially, and even economically when they need it most.
Though lawmakers and other talking heads tout family values and home stability as a virtue of civilized society, we rarely if ever hear them advocate for the investments in the social workforce necessary to help people achieve that.
8. Food service workers
Median income: $19,560
As the economy recovers, our appetite for dining out is making a fierce comeback. Someone has to feed that hunger, so food service has seen some of the largest job growth since the recession.
But how optimistic can we be about a labor recovery based on poverty-wage gigs — especially with a federal minimum wage that, when adjusted for inflation, peaked in 1968?
With fast food and other low-wage workers protesting throughout the country, seven states and a handful of cities decided to raise their minimum wages to $15 last year. And 16 more states are expected to raise their minimum wages in 2016.
Hopefully these are signs that we're on the verge of a tipping point for wage justice.
This is far from an all-inclusive list. And you don't have to agree with every one of the above to appreciate the larger point.
A Pew Research Center headline said it best: "The American middle class is losing ground." Middle-income earners comprised the majority of the working population 45 years ago.
Today, middle earners are dwindling, forced into a growing low-income tier as higher earners — the highest earners, really — capture an unfair share of the country's income and wealth.
And no amount of bootstrapping or hard work on the job will change this trend. Only widespread pressure from a pissed-off majority will.