It is an unfortunate truth that over the past few decades, prices have increased at a rate far higher than wages have.

It's troublesome that we have such a high unemployment rate in our nation, but it's even worse that some of the people who are employed aren't making enough to get by.

We've been taught that, as citizens of the United States, we live in a meritocracy. If you work hard enough, you'll earn what you deserve. It's a great concept: our American Dream.

But the dream has shown itself to be a bit unrealistic—there are many hard-working citizens with full-time jobs who struggle to support themselves and their families because their pay rests at or barely above the minimum wage.

The federal minimum wage has not increased since 2009. Of course, some individual states have higher baselines than the standard $7.25 an hour, but not many—and you can bet that Tennessee is not one of them. Tennessee, like several of its southeastern neighbors, doesn't even have a minimum wage law.

Many people are not concerned by how low our minimum wage is because they presume that the vast majority of those who earn minimum wage are teenagers or young adults in school. However, almost 50 percent of minimum wage earners are 25 or older.

We must also consider those who make just a little bit above the minimum wage—most people, after a period of time, get a raise. Those raises, however, are usually around 10 percent.

So, there are many people who make $8-10 an hour working full-time, but in many cases—especially if there's a family to support—those amounts aren't living wages.

The term "living wage" has been bandied about a great deal in recent times. It means exactly what you might think it does—a wage capable of supporting a person or family so that they can live above the poverty line.

Living wage campaigns are gaining steam all over the nation. In SeaTac, a small suburban city near Seattle, a narrow vote ended in a $15-an-hour minimum wage, an amount more than twice the federal minimum and is the highest in the country.

Notably, living wage campaigns have begun at a lot of universities—ours included—in support of campus workers.

Practically speaking, we stand to benefit from a minimum wage increase because it would likely foster a stronger working and middle class. Yes, a middle class—it's been a while since we had one of those.

The last time the disparity in wealth between the rich and the poor was as high as it now was in 1928, less than two years before the beginning of the Great Depression.

Now, I'm no economics student, but I don't think you have to be one to see that this doesn't exactly bode well for the future—not that the present has been so great, either.

So, even if we're totally indifferent about individuals who would be most directly affected by a raise in the wage—which, unfortunately, many of us are—then we should at least be concerned about the state of our nation's economy, right?

Andrea Richardson is a sophomore in anthropology. She can be reached at aricha43@utk.edu.