The Economic (In)Accessibility of COVID Tests

You would hope that, nearly two years into this global pandemic, the wealthiest nation in the history of humankind would figure out a way to make COVID tests economically accessible.

What I’ve heard and experienced secondhand in recent weeks has shown to me that such hope is not the reality. I have seen this for myself in a number of ways, the latest being the tests a family member has needed after being exposed to multiple people who tested positive for the virus.

In the case of the family member, one of the tests was a PCR test at a testing site. Even when you get past the fact that some places expect you to pay them a lot of money to get a test[1] (though the relative got his PCR test for free), there was the issue of the long line to get tested. It was a two-hour wait for the relative just to get tested! Worse yet, I know this story, in terms of how long it took just to get a PCR test, is far from an isolated one. This is a problem from an economic access standpoint because lines are so long that some people may need to take time off from work in order to get tested and still perform the other tasks of surviving as a human being (e.g. doing laundry and cooking food), yet lack the work schedule to take several hours off (once you factor in the transit between the testing site and some places not giving their employees the time off in order to get tested) needed to get a PCR test.

Then there are the at-home COVID tests…if you’re able to get your hands on one. That is a big “if” because I’ve been hearing reports from across the United States of people struggling to get their hands on one of those at-home testing kits. When I got an at-home testing kit the other day for the relative who got multiple exposures to the virus, it cost $24! To put the cost of the kit into perspective, $24 is nearly half a day’s wages for someone who earns the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and over 1 ½ hours worth of wages for someone who earns $15 an hour. The bottom line is that many at-home tests aren’t cheap, and they are expensive enough that some may have to choose financially between dinner on the table and an at-home COVID test—even in cases when the person considering the at-home test has been exposed to others who have tested positive for the virus.

I know that the Biden administration is looking to make more at-home tests accessible, so hopefully the increase in supply will be enough to lower the cost of the at-home tests. I also know that some parts of the United States are looking to ramp up their COVID testing infrastructure so that it won’t take so much time to get a test at a testing site. But for now, at least, many parts of the country have not mastered how to make a COVID test economically accessible for those who earn the least money and those who have the least flexible jobs.


[1] There was one time last summer that I considered getting a PCR test in the same building where I work in Manhattan. When I called the place, I was told that it would cost $290! My mom was also quoted ridiculous amounts to get a COVID test a few months ago—in one case up to $250 for a PCR test, with cash only and no insurance accepted. (For the record, I didn’t pay $290 for my test and my mom didn’t pay $250—I didn’t see the use of paying that much money when I could get a test for free elsewhere.)

Access to Free Coronavirus Testing: An Important Issue

The other day, I was searching for where I could get a free Coronavirus test. Namely, I was looking to hopefully get what is called a PCR test—the test that usually takes a couple of days to get the results from, but is also very accurate.[1] And so, I called around and looked around to see where I could get my test.

The first place I called said that their test would cost $290. When I first heard this, I asked whether he meant $2.90, stunned that it could possibly be $290. But it was $290. A place taking advantage of legitimate fear about the Coronavirus to charge nearly $300 for a test that you can get for free in certain places should be ashamed of itself.

The second place I called said that their test would cost $125. Okay, so it’s not as bad as $290, but it is still far from free.

Eventually I was able to get a free Coronavirus test from a public hospital that was about 15 minutes away from where I work. I was blessed. Yet, I left myself feeling extremely bothered by the fact that a place had the gall to charge $290 (or even $125) for a test that everyone should have easy access to in order to make sure that they are not spreading the virus (even asymptomatically, which can commonly happen even among vaccinated individuals) to other people. 

My experience here leaves me with a bothersome question: Are there other places where the only testing options nearby are places charging ludicrous fees? I hope the answer is no, but I fear that the answer is yes.

Even if the answer is no, an effort needs to be made to make sure that as many of the testing sites as possible are made as cheap as possible (ideally free). That way, instead of having a few free testing sites in each area where the lines are long, there are a lot of free testing sites in each area where the lines are short and the chances of coming across someone else with the virus are relatively low. After all, one should desire for it to be as easy and quick as possible to get tested, so that they can see whether they have the virus and need to act accordingly.

But if the answer is yes, then I personally think this is something where government needs to step up its game and provide free options for testing. In a case where we’re trying as best as we can to control the spread of the virus, it seems ridiculous that we would have areas devoid of free testing sites so that it is practically impossible to get a low-cost or no-cost test for the Coronavirus.

Ultimately, with the fact that even fully vaccinated people can transmit the virus and spread it, it is extremely important that we make sure that all people, regardless of vaccine status, have easy access to free Coronavirus testing. This is an important issue indeed, because nobody should have to pay $125, let alone $290, just to see whether they have the virus and could potentially spread it to others.


[1] https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/covid-19-diagnostic-test/about/pac-20488900

Funding for Colleges that Promote Economic Mobility: An Economic Justice Issue

An image of Baruch College-City University of New York. It’s one of the best colleges for economic mobility in the United States. It’s also underfunded. Eden, Janine and Jim from New York City / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

As a son of a professor in the City University of New York (CUNY) system, I have heard tales of all ends of the economic spectrum. It’s a system that has an extraordinarily high percentage of its students in some form of economic struggle—it was reported earlier last year that 49% of students went hungry at some point within that month, while 55% of students lacked a safe place to live during the previous year.[1] Yet, in spite of these extraordinary obstacles that so many students in the CUNY system face, CUNY schools dominate economic mobility lists for colleges.[2]

Systems like CUNY in New York or the University of California (UC) system in California, systems that are engines of economic mobility towards the middle class and even the top 20%, should be supported generously because they lift people out of poverty…and yet they’re not.

I’ve heard this happen in New York. The State of New York, which is supposed to provide the bulk of the money for CUNY funding, has been chronically underfunding CUNY for decades. Under New York’s current governor, Andrew Cuomo (a Democrat), CUNY underfunding has become so bad that colleges like my dad’s have had to make sacrifices such as going without a registrar, cutting class offerings even as the student population grows, raising tuition, and endangering students’ abilities to graduate within four years.[3]

I’ve also read about budget cuts in the University of California (UC) and California State University (Cal State) systems out west. Funding per student in the UC and Cal State systems (systems that are also proven engines of upward economic mobility) have dropped significantly in the past forty years, under both Republican and Democratic governors.[4] And, like in New York, I haven’t heard anything to indicate that the situation is getting any better for public higher education in California.

If anything, the situation is getting worse due to funding cuts during the coronavirus. California Governor Gavin Newsom proposed 10% cuts to the UC and Cal State systems last month,[5] while CUNY is anticipating having to cut thousands of classes and thousands of adjunct and part-time professors.[6]

CUNY, the UC system, and the Cal State system are not the only public university systems being deprived of funding, but these are three notable examples of universities being underfunded in spite of being engines of upward economic mobility.[7] New York and California are not the only places whose leadership has underfunded higher education that promotes economic mobility, but those two states are particularly notable because they have the ability to fully fund or underfund education systems that drive upward economic mobility, which is needed at all times, but even more so during a post-COVID economic recovery.

Underfunding of the CUNYs, UCs, and Cal States of the higher education world must become a prominent economic justice issue. Undermining systems that give students the opportunity to climb out of food and housing stress, and towards a life of economic stability, is economically unjust, not to mention an action that prevents people from seeing the “American Dream” (whatever is left of it) become a reality. It needs to be considered so unjust that it becomes politically dangerous for a politician, Republican or Democrat, to underfund institutions like the ones I’ve mentioned in this piece.

Look at the extent to which the CUNYs, UCs, and Cal States of the world already help people move from food and housing stress and towards the middle and upper class, even with chronic underfunding. It’s truly amazing to think what these institutions, and the students within these institutions, are capable of if they were all funded properly.

If you live in a state that has proposed cuts to higher education, and you’re unsure of whether your legislator is advocating against such cuts, it’s worth giving your state representatives a call.


[1] https://abc7ny.com/education/report-half-of-cuny-students-experienced-hunger-housing-issues/5220690/

[2] What this means is that CUNY lifts a lot of people from the lower class to the middle class: https://www1.cuny.edu/mu/forum/2018/08/20/cuny-again-dominates-chronicles-public-college-social-mobility-rankings/

[3] When it takes more than four years for someone to graduate, that can endanger the state of a student’s financial aid (and drastically increase how much it costs to complete college). For example, the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) in New York only goes for four years; if you need a fifth year, then you have no TAP, and the cost of a college education becomes more expensive: https://www.hesc.ny.gov/partner-access/financial-aid-professionals/tap-and-scholarship-resources/tap-coach/95-second-degree.html#:~:text=According%20to%20New%20York%20State,an%20approved%20five%2Dyear%20program.

[4] https://www.ppic.org/publication/higher-education-funding-in-california/ (Note: I don’t know if these measures account for inflation or not; if they don’t, then the decline in funding is even steeper than this piece advertises.)

[5] https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article242741996.html

[6] https://www.psc-cuny.org/SaveLivesJobsCUNY

[7] Or, if you’re really cynical, you might even be led to believe that these institutions are being punished because of how they produce so much economic mobility.

Poor Women, Wealthy Men, and the New School Sexual Assault Regulations

Because of the media’s focus on the coronavirus, one story that has gone somewhat (but not completely) under the radar is the changes that United States Education Secretary Betsy DeVos put into place for regulations that replaced Obama-era guidelines on how sexual assault accusations are dealt with at schools.

According to National Public Radio, which did a rather thorough piece on these changes, “Among the most significant changes are new regulations aimed at beefing up protections for accused college students, by mandating live hearings by adjudicators who are neither the Title IX coordinator nor the investigator, and real-time cross examination of each student by the other student’s lawyer or representative.”[1] I want to zero in on the change I quoted here, because this is a regulation that will likely end up harming poor women the most and helping wealthy men the most.

In making this argument, it’s worth saying that the real-time cross examination is something that advocates worry will open up wounds for survivors of the assaults under investigation. While yes, there are absolutely male survivors of sexual assault, as well as survivors who do not fall within the male-female gender binary,[2] this is a change that disproportionately hurts women in general, as women of school age are much more likely to be survivors of sexual violence than men of school age.[3] Therefore, when we’re talking about cross examination opening up wounds for survivors, we are most of the time talking about opening up wounds for female survivors of sexual assault. This change will harm women in general.

However, this change will harm poor women the most. This real-time cross examination by the other student’s lawyer or representative, in effect, results in a double whammy for poor people who are survivors: emotional wounds opened up by cross examination by the defendant, and then an inability to spend the money to hire a good lawyer or representative to answer in any effective way to the cross examination. As most survivors are women, this double whammy for poor people who are survivors will predominantly affect poor women. I just hope that there are lawyers/representatives out there willing to potentially do some pro bono work here because otherwise, I don’t see how poor women who are survivors stand much of a shot at getting justice in sexual assault cases under the DeVos guidelines.

On the other hand, these new regulations will likely end up helping wealthy men because: a) most perpetrators are men and b) the male perpetrators who come from wealthy families will be able to spend on the best lawyer/representative money can buy in order to fend off any accusations. Unless the survivor comes from a situation of economic wealth and can have the ability to hire good lawyers, the side of the wealthy male perpetrator is well positioned to win the legal case.

As to the results of these DeVos changes, I do tend to agree with advocates that this will likely have a chilling effect on reporting in general. However, I fear it will have a particularly chilling effect on reporting from poor women survivors of sexual assault. While some people may take pride in being right on something, this is a case where I really hope I am wrong.

Please note that because of Memorial Day, I will not publish a post next Monday.


[1] https://www.npr.org/2020/05/06/851733630/federal-rules-give-more-protection-to-students-accused-of-sexual-assault

[2] And if you’re a male survivor of assault or a survivor who doesn’t fit within the male-female gender binary, your story is no less valid because you are not a woman.

[3] https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence

Some People are So Poor, They Can’t Afford to Get Jobs

One day recently, I was reading through Facebook posts from my friends on my personal Facebook account. Usually, when I’m doing this, “blog post” is not one of the first things I have in mind.

But then, I saw a post where a friend of mine shared an image of a tweet from someone I didn’t even know…

It does sound absurd, that someone could be so poor they can’t afford to get a job. But, as ridiculous as this tweet may sound, it’s true—the expenses involved in getting and keeping a job can be prohibitively expensive.

Here are a few expenses that are required to get or keep a job, that can also be just too expensive for some people:

Money to keep your car running

Corbin’s tweet talks about “gas money,” and she’s right that gas money is one of the costs that makes someone so poor that they can’t get to a job interview or to a job. But, there’s also the cost of making sure the car remains in good shape, of getting repairs when something breaks, and of inevitably getting a new car when your old car struggles to run as it should. After all, there are many jobs that require you to have a car, so if you can’t afford to have a functional car, you can’t afford to have a job.

Or, if you don’t drive to and from work, money for mass transit

I’m blessed to live in a place where you can take mass transit to and from work. However, mass transit fares can add up over the course of a year. For example, if one were to get a monthly mass transit pass in New York City, that’s over $1,500 a year in mass transit expenses alone (at $127 a month). For someone who’s earning a lot of money, $1,500 may not sound like a ton. But for someone on the edge financially, that $1,500 may be the difference between being able to afford to get to a job—or not.

Child care

If you have a child and you are looking to work a job for 40 hours a week, your child needs to somehow be taken care of until you get home from work. Hence, the need for child care. But it costs many thousands of dollars a year, in many cases, to make sure your child is getting proper child care. In New York City, it costs, on average, over $16,000 a year for an infant to be in child care![1] Even with a $15 an hour minimum wage—something that many progressives advocate for—that’s half a year’s worth of your salary spent on child care alone.

Dress code

Corbin’s tweet also talks about people not being able to afford the money to adhere to the dress code for a job interview, let alone the multiple appropriate outfits necessary for a job. On a personal note, there was one time months ago when I ran into someone begging for money on the subway…so that he could get nice clothes for his job interview. I hope he got his money, and his clothes. In the meantime, this story exemplifies how it costs money—lots of it—to have the dress code you need for a job interview and a job. If you don’t have the money to buy professional clothing, then it puts you in a difficult situation professionally.


So, next time there’s a temptation to judge a poor person for not working hard enough to get back on their feet, I really wish that we were less judgmental, and remembered that the obstacles to “getting back on their feet” (in other words, getting a job) are, in some cases, too enormous to overcome at times. Instead, it would be best to find solutions that would allow for a poor person to not spend as much on car maintenance, for someone in economic need to get reduced-fare or free mass transit,[2] for reduced-price or free child care to exist for those who need it, and for more reduced-price or free professional clothing to exist for those who need it.[3] There are many economic barriers that lie between many people and jobs, and instead of calling someone lazy for encountering those barriers, it would be best to figure out how to remove the barriers.


[1] https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/average-cost-daycare-nyc-tops-16k-article-1.2428709

[2] New York City has a program through which low-income residents can get reduced-fare mass transit passes, so such policies can and do exist in some places: https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/home/downloads/pdf/resources/2018/Fair-Fares-FAQ-English.pdf

[3] Some individual programs, such as Dress for Success (for women) or the Men’s Wearhouse Suit Drive (for men) can help. However, individual programs like these are not enough. Click here for more information on Dress for Success and click here for more information on the Men’s Wearhouse Suit Drive.

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