From college to the workplace, COVID-19 is exposing America’s class divisions

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In recent days Duke University announced mandatory testing for all students — the only major university in the state to do so. Duke is a fine school; some rank it 10th among American universities. It is also an expensive school, its 6,500 undergraduates pay more than $58,000 a year in tuition. Without a scholarship, only the rich and powerful can send their kids there.

Appalachian State University is also a fine school, with 20,000 students — much larger than Duke. It’s not really in the national rankings, but it is listed as 6th among southern regional colleges. And it is cheaper than Duke with an annual tuition of $7,409. Being more affordable, it has a diverse student body, ranging from students from moderately wealthy families to those from the lower middle class. By and large, though, they are not families that can afford a Duke tuition. And ASU, like UNC Chapel Hill and UNC Charlotte and the state’s other universities, is not carrying out the systematic testing of Duke. Probably too expensive.

In short, there’s a class difference between Duke and Appalachian State students, just as there’s a class difference between Duke and Appalachian State. And sadly, there’s a similar class difference at work across the nation during a pandemic that has already infected five million and killed at least 166,000 in the United States.

Maximum safety requires comprehensive systematic testing, and for that you go to Duke. If you can’t afford that, you go to one of the other fine schools in the state, cheaper than Duke and less safe.

This class difference among college students mirrors the class difference in America’s economy.

Many of the workers in the food processing industry are immigrants who often live paycheck to paycheck. They have to go to work because if the virus doesn’t kill them, hunger will. In April of this year, more than 900 workers at a Smithfield Foods facility in Sioux Falls, S.D., tested positive for the virus; at least two died.

Smithfield is owned by Hong Kong-based WH Group, the largest pork processor in the world. How many of the wealthy owners of Smithfield go to work every morning with hundreds of others risking the disease? Or, with their money, is it more likely they live safely isolated from the contaminated masses? Read more