Does Theft Go Up in an Economic Downturn?

There have been numerous articles, surveys, and reports about whether shoplifting and/or employee theft go up during an economic downturn.  I have hesitated to comment on this issue when called by reporters because I believe it is very hard to determine over a short period of time.  I’ve also heard others argue that employee theft goes down during an economic slump.

One executive recently told me that he thinks theft goes down because you have fewer part-time hours being used and his company has more theft by part-timers than full-time, tenured employees.  There are also some theories that employees are less likely to steal during an economic downturn because it will likely be more difficult to find a new position and, therefore, the risk of losing their job is a greater deterrent than when there are more opportunities available at other companies.

Vangent has released a report, Organizational Ethics and Counterproductivity Risks During an Economic Downturn: Causes and Mitigation, on this very issue.  They say that, “ increase in unethical and counterproductive employee behaviors during the current economic downturn seems inevitable.”  Does anyone else want to weigh-in on this question?

2 Responses to Does Theft Go Up in an Economic Downturn?
  1. Curtis Baillie
    June 7, 2009 | 11:36 AM

    Walter –

    I’m of the belief that our ethical decision making process is formed early in life and guided by our parents, or people who are influential in our lives.

    I think there is a direct connection with the economy and increased theft activity. People lacking in ethical values will steal if given the right opportunity, or if they have a real (or perceived) need to do so. As the economy has worsened, their real or perceived need has increased. Those who have adopted a high ethical standard will never steal under any conditions.
    – Curtis

  2. Chris Richardson
    June 8, 2009 | 9:08 AM’s article, “Will Recession Make Cities Dangerous Again,” posted in December 2008, provides a great perspective from recognized criminologists who posit a down economy doesn’t result in increased crime. The article also provides an historical analysis of the economy and effects on crime.

    To read the article, click on the link below.