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November 13, 2021

The rise of middle-class shoplifting

When you read the bad news of the recession, it’s all extremes.

GM’s laid off another 20,000. Abortions are way up. Lehman Brothers, a financial staple for almost 160 years, has been forced to liquidate.

But, looking back, there may be a deeper depression in discussing some of the more subtle consequences of the downturn.

Indeed, the recession’s most understated outcome might’ve been the disruption of normalcy – a downgrade in the family car; a lighter church donation; an “I think we’re just going to lay low tonight” excuse to your friends headed to that expensive restaurant – we were forced to cope with.

Some were able to brush this off from the start. We don’t care what other people think. We’re just trying to get by.

And that is as noble as it gets. Commendable all the way through.

Yet not everyone could adapt quite as well, and some – at the behest of social pressures, image-consciousness or a desire to maintain a certain lifestyle – found themselves doing the unthinkable to stay on top of things.

At least, that appears to be the reasoning behind this latest story from the (U.K.) Times, which reports middle-class shoplifting has spiked since the recession arrived.

According to the paper, theft of mid-level items like fresh meat and expensive fish and cheeses has increased dramatically. Overall shoplifting boomed by nearly 20 per cent in Europe last year alone.

“We are not simply looking at your traditional shoplifters here … this is epitomised in the recent uprising of the middle-class shoplifter, someone who has turned to theft to sustain their standard of living,” one source tells the Times.

“I suppose people want to carry on with their lifestyle but cannot afford (the things) that they used to be able to afford and now they just take it.”

Pretty disheartening, no?

When all of this financial collapse nonsense is dead and gone, we’re going to reflect on the lasting images of the downturn.

And we’ll think of a picket line outside a closed auto plant, a bewildered stock broker with his head in his hands and – perhaps now – a 40-something housewife stuffing a wheel of Gouda into her blouse.

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...