Shoplifting: Is It Good for the Economy?

An increase in shoplifting is typically a bad sign for the economy; it means that things are so bad, people are forced to steal to make ends meet.

Joos Mind | Taxi | Getty Images

But the latest report from National Retail Federation showed that, while inventory loss due things like shoplifting increased by $3.6 billion, or nearly 11 percent, to $37 billion last year, much of that loss was due to employee theft.

Some economy watchers say that’s actually a good sign for the economy—that employees are feeling more secure in their jobs, and therefore more comfortable taking a few risks.

You know, when you start to feel safe and relaxed it’s natural to slip a minifridge in your lapel pocket, right?!

It’s true that employees are feeling more secure in their jobs right now. But many pros say what's causing the uptick in theft is that there have been so many layoffs that remaining employees feel overworked and underpaid feel like they’re justified in taking from the company.

“People are starting to get resentful about increasing workload,” said Marie McIntyre, a career coach and author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”

“You can only keep piling the work on the same staff for so long before the quality of work begins to suffer,” she said.

Or, before they say, while they’re working late one night, “Screw it. I’m taking the copier home. I’ve earned it!”

In fact, most retail theft is committed by employees—it’s just worse now because more people are reaching a point of desperation, said retail analystHoward Davidowitz.

“We are in an economy of desperation. People are desperate,” Davidowitz said. “Some people haven’t gotten raises or bonuses in years. They feel cheated. They think, ‘This is a way I can get a little bit back.’ A lot of employee theft comes from that attitude: ‘I’m underpaid, I’m overworked, I’m supposed to get more.’”

It’s like the old “buy one, get one free” has turned into “”pay for one, steal one,” Rachel Shteir, author of "The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting," told It gives you a sense of power, she said.

A couple of Splenda packets in grandma’s handbag may seem like a small deal but Davidowitz said this is bigger. Much bigger: It stems back to the deficit. Until Washington wrangles the debt, there won’t be confidence, companies won’t hire and the rest of us will be do disillusioned, we’ll be jamming packs of copier paper in our back pockets.

“The worst is yet to come,” Davidowitz said.

Employers should take this as a wake-up call: $3.6 billion is a lot of post-it notes and copier paper. You have to ask yourself, if we keep piling on to employees, and they keep getting more disgruntled, where will this end?

“If employees think shoplifting is OK in this economy, does it also mean that murder is OK in this economy because there are less people to compete against for jobs?” asked comedian Harrison Greenbaum.

I say let’s make a pact right here and now to end it at post-it notes and Splenda before we all do something we'll regret. Deal?

Pony Treats:

Most Commonly Stolen Items. Shoplifting may seem like an impulse but in fact, it can be pretty predictable. Here are the top 10 most stolen items.

It’s Got a Nice Beat. You Can Dance to It. Heartbreak is always a toe-tapper, but shoplifting, as it turns out, has also snuck it’s way into more than a few lyrics. Ah, the classics: “Let’s Loot the Supermarket Again” and “Do a Runner!”

Other Things to Stick in Your Pocket:

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