Last month a debate broke out in the Rochester and Finger Lakes areas following the exit of a popular Top-40 radio station DJ. Whitney Young left her job co-hosting a popular morning show at 98PXY due to a large pay gap between her and her male counterpart.

While there is an important discussion happening now in local communities about gender pay gaps, it also got the wheels turning in some other arenas as a broader discussion about salary ensued.

Recently, I wrote about the burden New York state places on businesses. Toward the end of that column, I noted that individuals feel that burn as much as anyone. I’ve written about median salary and how I believe that’s a better measure to indicate financial viability than median household income.

Due to the high cost of living, college debt, and a host of other factors, the trend is that young people are delaying basics such as settling down in long-term relationships, home ownership, and even starting families.

I mention “long-term relationships” because that’s particularly important when looking at income. Median household income is this broken data point, in my mind, that fails to take into account a seriously-evolved “home.” That’s why median salary seems so much more fitting.

Enough about that, though.

When Young left 98PXY, a lot of focus was on whether she “deserved” to make as much as her male counterpart. Her salary was less than 50% of his, according to her own comments on WXXI’s “Connections,” which focused an hour-long conversation on the broad topic of equal and fair salary.

Some basic market research can give us a pretty good indication about what reality looks like for anyone whose income falls into this category, even those outside radio or media. While Entercom, which owns 98PXY, does not reveal salaries publicly, PayScale.com has a great tool that allows individuals and businesses the ability to measure “value” of various jobs.

Here’s what we know: Minimum wage creates an annual gross salary of $23,088. PayScale and other similar tools suggest that her male counterpart could have been making between $50,000 and $60,000 annually. It means that since Young stated she made less than 50% of his salary, that annual income was likely less than $30,000.

Assume she made $30,000 for a highly-visible, brand-important job. If you’re a radio station, your morning show or morning slot is by far the most important. That’s when people are listening to the radio. Even if that audience is shrinking, it’s where the biggest opportunity exists to maintain or win listeners.

Several people pointed out that $30,000 breaks down to approximately $15 an hour — “A perfectly reasonable salary,” as a few people pointed out to me while we debated this in different spaces. Median salary throughout the region levels out between $25,000 and $28,000. It’s not hard to imagine that with part-time workers, a plethora of service jobs, and a big focus on tourism, which provides numerous jobs but comparatively small wages to other careers such as trades, which might see two- or three-times more.

If your income is around $30,000 it means you’re taking home approximately $24,000 after taxes and deductions. That’s around $500 per week or $2,000 per month. Financial experts say that housing should never account for more than 30-35% of one’s income. Well, unless you have a partner to share expenses with or are perpetually living with friends — that might work in your 20s but loses appeal quickly — even in rural parts of the Finger Lakes, that income won’t get the job done.

It means working a second or third job becomes necessary. And that’s just to get by. That won’t be to get out from under student loan debt, save for retirement, or to get into a position to do more with life, like start a business.

Again, there is an incredibly important discussion to be had about gender parity when it comes to salary. However, there is an equally important discussion to be had about what reality looks like for a growing percentage of the population that is left in rural, shrinking communities.

Thankfully, this isn’t a situation I’ve found myself in, but when I see peers living this out in real-time, I can’t help but genuinely wonder what some of our local communities will look like in another 10 or 15 years.

Josh Durso covers the Finger Lakes region as news director of FingerLakes1.com. He also hosts a podcast called “Inside the FLX,” available on iTunes. His “In Focus” columns run every other Tuesday in the Finger Lakes Times. He can be reached at josh@fingerlakes1.com or followed on Twitter @FLXJosh.

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