One morning last month, the manager of a Stop & Shop in Methuen, Mass., noticed a man, along with his young daughter, leave the store without paying for several bags of shrimp. When police arrived, they found something else on him, too: 20 cans of baby formula.
Call it a sign of the times. Steadily and alarmingly, shoplifting seems to be rising at many retail chains, and experts are pointing at a prime cause: the sputtering economy.
"Wages aren't keeping up with inflation, especially the price of food and energy," says Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial. "It just leaves less money for everything else, and that breeds a lot of temptation."
Retail and law enforcement experts agree that they've seen an increase in store theft during the current slowdown — and not only from customers.
"It's clear that both employee theft and shoplifting are up," says Richard Hollinger, professor of criminology at the University of Florida who compiles the annual National Retail Security Survey. "The most recent rise is being driven by the economy. A lot of people are on the financial edge."
I wouldn't say "a lot of people" because that makes it an idea no one can comprehend. I would say that "there's a good chance the people you see every day are suffering in ways you probably couldn't have imagined two or three years ago."
Of course, the solution is pretty simple: summary executions or life sentences for offenders, right? The only candidate who spoke about class and poverty on a regular basis was John Edwards, and he might as well have been talking about the price of tea in China for all the good it did for him to make this an issue.