The coronavirus recession has been a relentless churn of high unemployment and economic uncertainty. Hunger is chronic, at levels not seen in decades. One result is that shoplifting is up markedly since the pandemic began in the spring and at higher levels than in past economic downturns, reports the Washington Post. What’s distinctive about this trend is what’s being taken — more staples like bread, pasta and baby formula. “We’re seeing an increase in low-impact crimes,” said Jeff Zisner of the workplace security firm Aegis. “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.”
In Maryland, a woman named Jean said her son’s day-care center suddenly closed in April, forcing her to give up her $15-an-hour job as a receptionist. She didn’t qualify for unemployment benefits, was denied food stamps at least three times and gave up on local food banks because of the lines. Jean began sneaking food into her son’s stroller at the local Walmart. She said she’d take things like ground beef, rice or potatoes but always pay for something small, like a packet of M&M’s. Dollar Tree and Family Dollar, which often are in low-income areas, have seen “increasing instances of theft” during the past year, said spokeswoman Kayleigh Painter. In Philadelphia, reports of retail theft jumped about 60 percent this year. Though shoplifting tends to spike during national crises — it jumped 16 percent after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and 34 percent after the 2008 recession, the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention says the current trend line is skewing even higher, says Read Hayes, a criminologist at the University of Florida and the director of the Loss Prevention Research Council.