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June 27, 2021

Uptick in shoplifting signals, oddly, that economy is back

Why does Aladdin swipe that loaf of bread? ‘Cause he’s poor, right? No money for food, so he’s gotta steal.

Istockphoto_399767-handcuffs Certainly, save for Ocean’s Eleven-style burglaries, theft has traditionally been an act of desperation.

But in a strange twist, a recent uptick in shoplifting is being chalked up to an economic recovery  and not a further sink into despair.

Yes, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF) out of the U.S., inventory shrinkage – defined here not by what happens when inventory swims in a cold pool but as the value of lost retail merchandise – cost store owners more than $37 billion in 2010. That’s up from $33.5 billion the year before.

To the layman, our gut says, “Oh, man, ya see? What recovery? People are stealing just to put food on the table.” Yet in the stance of the NRF, the increase in shoplifting, which they claim is largely due to employee theft, is a sign workers are more sure of the economy than they’ve been in a while.

When employees steal more, it’s said, they’re less concerned about the threat of losing their job, even if it’s minimum wage. That’s why shoplifting went down during the recession when times were tight, according to some sources.

“They were so worried about their future, their families and paying the mortgage, they realized this is what is keeping their family afloat,” said Richard Hollinger, a University of Florida criminology professor and author of the NRF’s security survey.

Not without merit here is that such a trend has historical precedent. Retailer inventory losses reached their highest point in 1994, when the American economy was quickly growing following the late ‘80s/early ‘90s downturn. It took more than 15 years, after another grisly recession, for shoplifting rates to reach heights resembling their sky-high rate in 1994.

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...

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...