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Economics / Lifestyle / Philadelphia / Thriving

Meet Erica Irving, a Philly mom balancing a job search and childcare needs

Finding the right mix of flexible hours and a livable wage has been a challenge. Listen to her story in this installment of's Thriving audio series.

Erica Irving with her daughter. (Photo by Dominique Nichole)

This report is part of Thriving, a yearlong storytelling initiative from focused on the lived experiences of Philadelphia and comparative city residents. The goal is to generate insights about the economic opportunities and obstacles along their journeys to financial security. Here's who we're focusing on and why.

Erica Irving spent much of 2021 and 2022 struggling to get unemployment benefits after she was laid off from a job and then searching for a new job — all while raising a daughter with special needs.

“My daughter is nonverbal,” Irving said. “So, like, my daughter is neurodivergent. My daughter has autism.”

There are several daycare programs in Philadelphia that cater to autistic kids. Some of these programs are either free or low cost depending on specific guidelines. But Irving doesn’t want to risk it.

“So many of us have heard those horror stories where … terrible things are happening to kids in daycare, and those kids are verbal,” she said.

So Irving has been searching for a job with untraditional hours so she can be at home with her daughter during the day. Finding one that offers a “livable wage” has been the challenge.

The minimum wage in Pennsylvania is $7.25 per hour — a little more than $15,000 annually for a full-time worker. It has been fixed at that rate since 2009.

Meanwhile, MIT’s living wage calculator says a single parent with one child needs to earn $36.94 per hour — $76,835 annually for a full-time worker — to support themselves and their child. And an adult who lives with another adult and one child needs to earn $34.42 per hour — $71,593 annually — to support themselves and their family.

“During the pandemic, specifically people in corporate America were having these, like, thought pieces, I guess you could say, about how people don’t want to work,” Irving said. “But the reality is people do want to work. It’s just that we want to work livable wages.”

Irving wants to make enough money to take care of her daughter, and maybe even organize supervised playdates for her.

“I never want her to feel unsafe,” she said. “I think, at this point in being a mother, I really want to just make sure that she’s able to submerge herself in so many different things.”

These Thriving audio stories feature reporting by Nichole Currie and audio production by Rowhome Productions. 

Series: Thriving

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