By Karl B. Hille
GREENBELT – Jason Flanagan juggled family, school, multiple jobs and night work in an armored truck to earn a degree in English.
He went to work for the Gazette newspapers in 2006 for $27,000 a year, before landing at the Baltimore Examiner a year later with a $6,000 raise. Even then, supporting his wife and two young daughters in a two-bedroom apartment in Greenbelt was not easy.
Pinched by the cost of school, rising expenses of a growing family, and never seeming to earn enough, he depended on credit cards for gas and school supplies. Creditors started threatening legal action, he said.
“A lot of times it was just basically trying to deal with who was being the most threatening, who was going to take me to court or take part of my salary,” Flanagan said. “It’s kind of hard to deal with creditors when you have no money.”
His marriage disintegrated.
“Money was a huge factor in my divorce. I wasn’t making enough of it. I couldn’t really support them well,” Flanagan, 31, said.
Then in the midst of the country’s worst recession, the Examiner closed and he found himself out of work.
“It was almost as if someone had touched the reset button for you, and you’re not ready, and you have to do it all over again: find another job, and find a place to live, and deal with creditors,” Flanagan said.
Unable to pay his creditors, he landed in court a second time in 2009.
He found work soon after the Examiner closed in March, teaching English at Oxon Hill High School in Prince George’s County. However, the school year didn’t start until August, meaning the first paycheck was still more than five months away.
“It was certainly a scary time,” Flanagan said.
The economy is improving, but many working families, like Flanagan’s, are still recovering from the effects of the downturn.
He works extra jobs — with hockey leagues at two ice rinks, besides extra duties at school like coaching — to make ends meet.
Teachers salaries have been frozen for three years, including one year with a freeze and furloughs, resulting in a net loss of earnings, said school board member Donna Hathaway Beck, District 9.
Flanagan said he, like many teachers, already pays for school supplies out of his own pocket: $600 a year for paper, pencils, note pads, copying fees and technology the school system does not cover. His student newspaper is published online-only to save money.
Flanagan said he “maybe” earns $50,000 a year before deductions, but with two young children to support, “it’s still not enough for me to live comfortably, like if I wanted to save money. I can’t do that. I have no savings.”
He would like to move to a two-bedroom apartment to make his daughters’ visits more comfortable, but for now he sleeps on an air mattress in the living room when they are with him.
He doesn’t have cable, but the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Flanagan allows himself one luxury: League fees to play ice hockey run $120 in the summer and $200 for the longer winter season — with employee discounts.
“Hockey is one thing that I do to keep me from being super-depressed or going insane.”