The real crime isn’t shoplifting — it’s wage theft

By | September 3, 2023

Jason Linkins writes:

Last weekend, I stumbled across a viral tweet thread that provided a rather thorough debunking of one of my big bugbears: the insipid shoplifting panic that’s been coursing through the media the past two years. Over several posts, WBAI radio host Rafael Shimunov punctures what’s become a classic “too good to check” story and discovered that many of the foundational ideas behind what’s been sold as a bona fide crisis were falsehoods—and not particularly well-constructed ones at that.

Once the evidence was sorted and the numbers run, Shimunov estimated that the total cost of our shoplifting horror show amounted to “seven cents per 100 dollars in losses.” The real “shoplifting crisis,” in fact, may be simply the way this nonstory has become so indelibly imprinted in the zeitgeist: Shimunov, after all, was pulling his evidence largely from Los Angeles Times article from 2021, one of many pieces that explored these claims and found a hoax at the center instead. What will it take, then, to dislodge this falsehood from the public consciousness? Perhaps what we need here is a better enemy—and if the public wants a pound of flesh from a gang of conniving thieves, I’ve got one: corporate America’s runaway wage theft.

Unlike shoplifting, this is not a penny-ante crime, and it’s carried out every day with the ruthless efficiency of the boardroom. An L.A. Times column of a more recent vintage, courtesy of Michael Hiltzik, tells a fuller story. He enumerates many ways in which employers pull their own coordinated smash-and-grab jobs on their employees’ paychecks: “They may pay workers less than the legal minimum wage, fail to pay overtime, deny workers legal meal breaks or rest periods, divert workers’ tips, or require them to work off-the-clock to prepare for their shifts or to perform duties after their shifts have ended.”

And those are some decidedly old-school techniques. The “one neat trick” to screwing workers in today’s gig economy is simply to misclassify them as independent contractors, “thus sticking the workers with expenses that would be covered for employees.” [Continue reading…]

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