More Americans Are Shoplifting to Feed Themselves During the Pandemic, Report Says

With no government aid in sight, The Washington Post found people turning to stealing essentials just to survive.

A new eye-opening report, published yesterday by The Washington Post, found that shoplifting—especially for basic necessities like food and other groceries—has reached historically high levels in America over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and shows little evidence of slowing down as government programs expire without any new aid set to replace them. WaPo says it spoke to more than a dozen retailers, security experts, and police departments—as well as a handful of actual pandemic shoplifters—to reach their conclusion.

“We’re seeing an increase in low-impact crimes,” Jeff Zisner, chief executive of workplace security firm Aegis, told the paper. “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.”

View of empty supermarket shelves on March 18, 2020 in New York. ANGELA WEISS / Contributor /Getty Images

The statistic clearly point to a larger problem. The Washington Post says an estimated 54 million Americans will struggle with hunger this year, up 45 percent from last year, according to the USDA. And the Census Bureau told the paper that nearly 26 million adults reported not having enough food to eat as of mid-November, reaching record highs for the 22 years the government agency has been tracking this data.

As a result, one criminologist believed that shoplifting is now worse than it was during the 2008 recession. At the very least, Zisner added that he’s seen a 35 percent increase in demand from retailers for security guards and loss prevention experts to curb theft.

And in one of WaPo’s most profound anecdotes, they spoke to a 28-year-old who’s taken to shoplifting avocados—once considered a sign of millennial excess—after she lost her food industry job. She told the paper she felt bad about stealing and specifically targeted large chains since she felt they could better absorb the loss, but added, “When you’re eating cheap meals every day, sometimes it’s nice to have an avocado to spice things up for one night.”

You can read The Washington Post’s entire report here.

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