In some data analysis that sounds like it came out of Les Miserables, the Washington Post reports that more Americans are stealing to survive, citing an uptick in the shoplifting of basic necessities like food, baby formula, diapers and hand sanitizer. The evidence suggests that the brutal whirlpool of high unemployment brought on by the pandemic mixed with a sluggish and underwhelming government response has led to a hunger crisis in the U.S. not seen in decades. As a result, normally law-abiding Americans are turning to theft to survive.
“We’re seeing an increase in low-impact crimes,” said Jeff Zisner, chief executive of workplace security firm Aegis, told the Post. “It’s not a whole lot of people going in, grabbing TVs and running out the front door. It’s a very different kind of crime — it’s people stealing consumables and items associated with children and babies.”
Getting exact numbers are difficult, since retail chains are hesitant to share data on “shrink” — retail lingo for missing inventory. Places like Dollar Tree and Family Dollar confirmed that they’ve seen a rise in shoplifting but didn’t say exactly how much. Police data indicates a jump in shoplifting arrests. That’s not unusual for a time of crisis — the same thing happened after 9/11 — but this spike is skewing higher and holding longer.
Americans are gearing up for what looks to be a very difficult winter, with COVID case numbers skyrocketing and regular daily records for COVID-related deaths. 20 million Americans are on unemployment and 12 million will run out Christmas Day unless Congress can figure out a new bill. Research says that this summer’s stimulus checks did a lot of good for households in need, but a sequel has been hard to come by and with an effective vaccine still a few weeks or possibly months away, the federal government’s embarrassingly bungled efforts to contain the pandemic have forced some families to do things they wouldn’t normally do.