Plan B

Several times during my newsroom career, PR contacts from agencies I covered recruited myself and colleagues – Montgomery County Police and Fire/EMS, Prince George’s County Schools, University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Though I consistently resisted the pull of the “dark side,” it did get me to thinking: What would I be comfortable flakking?

Not public schools – there’s too much insanity in that department, too many decades of experimentation, statistics manipulation, shady characters running massive local government agencies that couldn’t even muster a background check before awarding six-figure salaries.

Not Police – I don’t think I’d ever fit in – nor could I stand still while a police academy instructor pepper-sprayed me in the face and another tried to take my red-gun just to punk me.

I thought, “maybe a well-run fire and rescue – those guys sign up to risk their lives to save others on a day-to-day basis” – but it would depend on the jurisdiction. Also, could I ever fit in?

School of Medicine? Maybe – it would help if the recruitment effort weren’t more of a fantasy in my head than those others.

I stumbled back to my feet in a shop I hadn’t previously considered – NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center – despite the fact I’d worked many stories there as Baltimore’s health and science writer, and it’s three miles from my house.

Now I produce websites and pages as well as serve as the social media mouthpiece for one of the coolest, geekiest, and largest brain-farms in the nation, and for the first time in my career, I work for a profit-making enterprise.

The best part of that last aspect, is that unlike previous employers, they encourage me to go back to school. Now I am working on a Carnegie Institute-sponsored seminar, studying how the recession and national fiscal policy, affect Maryland’s working families. Taught at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill School of Journalism and published through the Capital News Service wire, our goal is to present a series of articles about how rising costs and stagnant salaries affect real people.

Wages in Maryland have risen just over 25 percent in the last decade, in the same time in which the cost of raising a family shot up 43 percent. This pinch affects everybody, but especially working-class families with small children. Prince Georges County, where I live, is the most expensive in Maryland for child care.

The problem with statistics is that while they can tell an important story, you can’t grab your readers’ attention like you can when you start talking about real people.

The cost for my family – three children – to be fully self-sustaining in Prince George’s County tops $70,000, according to a study by the University of Washington, The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Maryland 2012, released in February by the Maryland Community Action Partnership. That counts Housing: $1,735; Child Care: $2,116; Food: $878; Transportation: $362, and Health Care: $491.

I can’t help feeling smart because I get by on 80 percent of that by skipping child care and living in Greenbelt’s speculation-protected cooperative.