The supposed trend of shoplifting’s rising as the economy tanks is “mythical” and “bogus,” says media critic Jack Shafer of Slate.com. On Tuesday, the New York Times ran a story headlined, “As Economy Dips, Arrests for Shoplifting Soar,” but the piece never delivers on the headline’s promise, Shafer says. Police departments “across the country” claim that shoplifting arrests are 10 percent to 20 percent higher this year, but the departments aren’t named. The Times doesn’t give the number of departments consulted or the reporting methodology of those departments. FBI statistics, not cited by the Times, show that shoplifting offenses in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007–the last year for which we have complete data–were smaller than in the peak year of 2003. But even if 2008’s data, when they arrive, show a one-year increase in shoplifting, it will be difficult to correlate that with the economy.
The Washington Post took a similar tack Wednesday in “The Economy’s Latest Hurdle for Retailers: Shoplifting.” In an Associated Press story, Minnesota Retailers Association President Buzz Anderson goes off the usual retailers’ script by saying he can’t determine whether shoplifting is up because of the recession or because retailers see more shoplifting during the holidays. A news outlet hoping to prove that the failing economy is causing a shoplifting rise must demonstrate a genuine–as opposed to anecdotal–increase in shoplifting arrests, and a link to the economy. Although academics may have proved such a correlation in the past, no shoplifting articles Shafer read this week cited any such authority.