Struggles II

Woman counting money
More stories pour in of people looking to get ahead in the poorest big city in America, Philadelphia. | Image: Sharon McCutcheon

In Part I of this ongoing series, I shared a pair of stories a former colleague told me about how he navigates the dance classified as working poor.

Since telling his story via my column, I’ve received numerous emails from readers (and thank you) who’ve shared similar tales of what they go through just to survive day-to-day.

Mind you, all of these people are working and not asking for a handout, it’s simply the struggle of scratching and surviving in one of America’s poorest major cities. Similar to the tale of my colleague, these stories have ingenuity written all over them, even if they arrive at the detriment of their wallets.

Daycare delay

“I live in West Philadelphia right on the edge of Upper Darby. I have two daughters who I want the best for so I work two jobs, by day at an AT&T store in the city and three nights a week I work overnights at Target, stocking shelves and organizing the storeroom. It’s a grind, but it’s afforded me to keep our home and the lights on.

Of all the expenses I have right now, the biggest for me is child care. I’m a single mom with no real family in Philadelphia, but luckily I have some great friends. Daycare for my two kids is $420 week ($210 per child) that’s over $1,600 a month. Working two jobs, I only make about $3,300 take home, so literally half of my pay goes to child care. By the time I pay rent, utilities and student loans – even though I had to drop out after I got pregnant with my second – I barely have enough to buy food for the week sometimes.

“So to make ends meet, I write checks to my school instead of paying with my debit card because I know at least I can buy some time until my next payday before they cash the check. I have bounced checks before and it’s such an embarrassment, but I just apologize and pay their bad check fee, which is a hit of about $35-$38 from both the school and my bank every time I write a check that doesn’t clear.

I thought about finding different daycare but, I’m stuck. My girls love it there, they have developed great friends and it’s a really great community of parents. I wrote to you after reading about your friend because it was honestly nice to know that I wasn’t alone. There are people out there like me not sitting back but working and striving for better that are still struggling to make ends meet.

Thank you for having an outlet like this and using it to let other people like me know that despite what you see, everybody’s got something.”

— Kelley, 31, West Philadelphia

Maxing out on the minimum

“I do what I can to pay my bills on time, but it’s hard and if you’re a day late, it’s a late charge. I think I have late charges on just about every bill I have – and they’re adding up.

Why am I always late?

Because I don’t make enough to pay them in the first place. I work 50 hours a week for a cleaning service at $10.50 an hour. After taxes, my weekly take-home is $380 a week. My monthly rent for my one-bedroom is $800, which leaves less than $1,000 each month for utilities and living expenses.

My landlord pays for heat and hot water, but I’m responsible for everything else. I’m literally what you’d qualify as working poor. I had to sell my car to get the down payment for my apartment two years ago and I rely on [SEPTA’s Broad Street] Orange Line to get to work. My credit is shit, which to be honest, I’m OK with because if I had a credit card, I’d probably max it out and be in deeper debt, anyway.

“So what do I do? I’m on payment plans with PECO, PGW and Comcast just to keep everything on and operational. However, the whole time I’m paying just the minimum to stay on, I’m still paying on the late charges, which is essentially interest and I incur additional late charges if I’m late with my minimum payments on my arrangements. On the outside looking in, I seem very stable with my shit together, but I’m anything but. I don’t go out if anything I socialize at friends’ parties because it’s cheaper.

I’m 29 and I’m already drowning in debt I’ll never be able to get ahead of. I wrote this because I’ve totally done the ATM advance like the person you wrote about but I’ve gotten cracked for it from Wells Fargo so many times it’s not even an option for me anymore.

“Living like this has made me realize that the cliche of ‘life being a struggle,’ is exactly that. I’m working my ass off, beyond 40 hours a week to make something of myself, but I feel like it’s just not possible.”

Daija, 29, Fairmount

Have a story you’re comfortable sharing? Email me at

Stay strong, Philly.

Broke in Philly tag

Philadelphia Weekly is a member publication of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among 23 news organizations, focused on Philadelphia’s push towards economic justice. Read more of our reporting at

Editor’s note: This is a reprint. This op-ed originally ran in Philadelphia Weekly on Nov. 2018. More from the Struggles series to come later this year.

  • Kerith Gabriel's Headshot

    Kerith Gabriel is the former editor-in-chief at Philadelphia Weekly but somehow hasn’t figured out that means he doesn’t have to write nearly as much. As a routine contributor, journalism has been in his blood since his beginnings as a sports writer over a decade ago for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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