I bet you’ve at least thought about it—grabbing a piece of candy, stuffing it in your pocket and walking out of the store without waiting in that tedious line at the register. Maybe you’ve done it before and you felt alive at your core, high on adrenaline, enamored with your own rebellious persona. Or maybe you just wanted it so you took it. If you have shoplifted, you are not alone.
According to Rachel Shteir’s The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting, nearly 10 percent of all U.S citizens have tried shoplifting—“that’s more than the percentage who have tried cocaine or who are considered clinically depressed.” Here’s another shocking statistic: “People with an income of $70,000 or more are 30 percent more likely to shoplift than those earning less.”
I did not initially intend to discuss the issue of shoplifting, but I did want to know: Do Puget Sound students regularly cause problems for people unaffiliated with the school who live and work in the area?
I spoke to a man walking his dogs, who said, “Generally, the kids I meet are nice and respectful. I don’t get a whole lot of noise and chaos.”
I figured this would probably be the response I would receive from most people who live around the University, since the student body is so small. I decided to talk to an employee at the Metropolitan market to find out if Puget Sound students are disruptive when they come in at all hours of the night.
“More often than not they’re always on really good behavior. To be fair, I’d say 70 percent,” he told me.
Obviously, the students here are not complete saints, but our University isn’t exactly a hub of crime and illicit activity. We are, however, thrust into an environment in which we can do almost whatever we want, as long as we are discrete and good at not getting caught. What do many students choose to get away with? Probably lots of things we hope our religious cousin, future employer, or favorite teacher will never find out about. Fun nights can sometimes involve harmless things like peeing on front lawns, telling everybody how much you love them or stealing some delicious munchies from the Met. But maybe the last one isn’t so harmless.
I must admit, for a long time I have regarded stealing small items from big stores as extremely low on the scale of bad behavior. I figured it didn’t actually hurt anyone except big corporations, and they already have enough money anyway. Although the employee I spoke with at the Met said 70 percent of students act respectfully at night in the store, he went on to say “about 30 percent are ripping us off blind.”
Apparently, some Puget Sound students have developed a habit of acquiring expensive food without paying for it. According to the Met employee, the most common items stolen are bulk candy, deli items, and beer. People may have heard it is easy to steal from the Met but according to the employee, “it isn’t [easy] if they’re getting caught.”
Why are students risking so much to get a bag of candy or a few beers? The Met employee has his theories: the thrill of doing something illegal, or maybe a form of anarchy. I agree that young people like to do bad stuff for fun and it’s always nice to say, “Screw you, societal norms!” But if that is your aim, there are definitely more effective techniques than stealing a mozzarella, basil, pesto, and roasted red pepper sandwich from the Met.
I think many of us have gotten used to a certain standard of living, and it is difficult to maintain that on a college student’s budget. Another issue may be the fact that, now more than ever, many students are struggling to make ends meet. Tuition is becoming higher every year, along with the interests rates of student loans and the overall cost of living.
But what about the people who do have enough money to buy the things they need but still steal? Stealing from a store is impersonal, and there’s a sense of distance from the victim. Most people wouldn’t steal from their friends. It is hard for me to bring myself to pay $8.00 for a bottle of shampoo or $14 for a nice brick of cheese when it would be so easy to just take a few things. No one will notice and no one will suffer because of it, right?
When I asked the Met employee if the theft makes him and the other workers feel disrespected, he said, “A bit, yeah. Because you know we’re definitely here as a neighborhood store. If you’re looking at a stance of all of these people here who are working really hard for their wage, putting their time in to do so, that’s basically our money. They’re taking money from us, from our kids, from what we want to do in our lives. And that’s where it’s not necessarily a monumental issue, it’s the point where you think, god, what do they think when they’re doing it? They’re not. That’s the issue.”
I wasn’t so sure about this argument I had heard many times, that a little shoplifting here and there actually impacts consumers and local employees, but it turns out to be true.
Apparently, each American family loses $500 due to theft-related price inflation, an amount that is higher in the United States than anywhere else in the world. According to Shteir’s book, “The shoplifting of a single $5 heirloom tomato from Whole Foods requires sales of $166 worth of other groceries in order for the store to absorb the loss, a reality that affects prices for all shoppers.”
It is hard to justify stealing with money in your bank account, attending a private university while, according to the Census Bureau, 15.1 percent of Americans live below the poverty line; many try to make ends meet without stealing. We all have our reasons for doing what we do, but we can change how we rationalize our behavior when we notice inconsistencies. There will always be excitement in getting away with things, but is shoplifting really worth it?
The Met employee told me about a specific time he discovered a student stealing—“He actually had bulk candy and he put it in his pocket. A huge amount of it.” When questioned the student replied, “Well, I thought it would be okay. I thought it was a sample.” My advice: if you engage in some self-examination and decide to shoplift anyway at least own up to it if you get caught.