We don’t normally associate “living wage” and “healthcare system” with things like “national security,” but they are related. Nothing happens in a vacuum, so with this uptick in people talking about national security, and Republican healthcare repeal and economic policies, let’s take a look at how the three interact to make us more vulnerable to terrorism, not less.
Before I start, I need to note that your odds of dying in a foreign terrorist attack are fantastically slim. Terrorism is practically a non-issue to Americans, and there are greater threats.
However, those greater dangers don’t get headlines like they should — which is why I’m going to use terrorism as an example. Keep in mind everything I describe here can happen on accident, but since terrorism is what gets peoples’ attention, that’s what I’m using.
To understand how this works, we have to begin with the weakest link: the fast-food and hospitality industry.
This is one of the fastest growing sectors in the American economy, and it’s also one in which employees are treated like trash. Stories about how your servers were handling your food despite being violently ill are Google search away, and there are a lot of them. These are just a few.
People who work in fast-food are also chronically underpaid; they make minimum wage (usually) only because the businesses can’t pay them any less. They don’t get things like sick days or paid time off. This means that not only will they run the risk of getting fired if they call in sick, they couldn’t afford to even if they wouldn’t get fired.
But what about insurance? Everyone has to have insurance now because of Obamacare; the public pool is vitally important to the program. But that does little to bring down the costs of things like premiums, co-insurances, deductibles, and the like. For some, insurance is still too expensive. People who don’t have insurance or who pay a high premium are less likely to visit a doctor for preventative care, and likewise, so are people who have irregular schedules and who can’t call in to get a day off.
Can you guess what profession combines a lack of money with an irregular schedule and an inability to get a day off?
So how is this a danger? One word: Bioterrorism.
Consider the influenza virus. It’s a highly mutable virus, because of how it’s genome works, and ideal for this example (to make a quick and dirty analogy: imagine the virus as a packet of Legos. Each Lego block is a piece of the virus’ genome, and when the virus dumps its genome into your cell, those blocks can get recombined in new ways. This is why you need a new flu shot every year, and why even if you get the flu shot, you can still get a different flu strain).
A person who has some experience with manipulating viruses can alter the flu virus easily. What happens if this person is a terrorist who infects themselves with a more virulent and lethal version of this virus, and then visits every fast food or hospitality business they can before they die? If they live in BFE, Kansas, it’s not a problem. If they live in New York City, it very quickly becomes a pandemic.
You can catch the flu just from being within six feet of a person who has it. Given that, how many people do you think our terrorist is infecting? More importantly, how many of those people are going to have to come into work sick, or ignore visiting the doctor when flu symptoms get worse because they can’t afford it, and handle your food?
If you wanted an effective way to hit the United States with a bioterrorist attack, it doesn’t get much more effective than this. I have no idea how many people you’d infect, but given that 8 out of 10 Americans eat at fast-food places once a month? I’m willing to bet the answer is “a lot.”
Now, I’ll pour a bit of cold water on this scenario and say it’s highly unlikely. A suicide virus attack doesn’t make the same headlines that a suicide bomber makes, and as proof, know your odds of dying in a terrorist attack are 1 in 46,000. Terrorism works precisely because it’s so rare.
Public health crises just don’t get headlines in the same way.
But that doesn’t mean this still isn’t a weak link. While it’s unlikely it can happen on purpose it can still happen on accident. Humanity is no stranger to disastrous viral pandemics, after all. And the most immediate fix to prevent this — instituting a mandatory minimum wage, paid time off, and some system that eliminates deductibles, co-insurances, and the like — isn’t going to happen for some time given our current political environment.
So keep this in mind the next time Republicans opposed to a minimum wage or universal healthcare system start going on about “national safety” — their policies are a greater risk to national safety and security than an open border is.