The names of students have been changed for this story.
Jason was 8 years old when he shoplifted for the first time. He had slipped a small Transformer figurine into his pocket after his parents refused to buy it for him. As soon as Jason left the store, he was overwhelmed with guilt. He hid the toy, never telling his parents about what he had done.
Today, Jason’s guilt has subsided. He now shoplifts regularly, using it as a way to get by living in Boulder.
A sophomore at the University of Colorado Boulder, Jason began shoplifting weekly when he moved into his apartment this year and realized “how much groceries were.”
Jason, whose pantry is filled entirely with dishes and utensils stolen from CU dining halls, says he only takes necessities. This is mostly food from the CU’s University Memorial Center and groceries from the local King Soopers.
“I would stop shoplifting and pay for the groceries if I could afford it,” Jason said. “If I didn’t have bills.”
Like the majority of students at CU Boulder, Jason lives off campus. According to the Times-Call, in 2017 Boulder reached a record-high average rental price of $1,596 for a one-bedroom apartment. That is nearly $600 more per month than the state average of $1,004. Jason and his roommates are lucky enough to only pay a little under $1,000 per month for rent.
After accounting for taxes, Jason would have to work approximately 114 hours a month at Colorado’s minimum wage of $10.20 per hour (on top of his full-time student course load) to make enough for rent alone.
In addition to rent, tuition at CU Boulder is also uncommonly high. This year, the Chronicle of Higher Education ranked CU Boulder the 15th most expensive out-of-state and the 38th most expensive in-state public university in the country. In comparison to CU Boulder’s 2018 ranking of 174th best college by Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education, this highlights CU’s unjustifiable cost. This is also evident in CU Boulder’s ranking of 993rd on College Factual “Best Colleges for the Money” list.
The rent and tuition prices of Boulder have left Jason and his family financially drained.
“I don’t think that it’s okay to steal,” Jason said. “At the end of the day, you’re breaking the law. But I do it anyway. I have priorities in my life and one of them is making sure that my family and I are financially stable. If I am able to take a financial burden off their shoulders, then I will do whatever it takes. Even if it means stealing.”
Jason is not alone in his exploits. Zoe, a CU Boulder sophomore, traces her shoplifting habit back to her freshman year of high school.
“I steal maybe three times a month,” Zoe said. “If I’m at the mall, I’ll steal clothes. At the grocery store I steal groceries, sometimes makeup. It’s definitely saved me money so I can use it on other things. But whenever I steal I always buy something too.”
Zoe, who also takes school supplies and food from CU dining halls, believes that the morality of her actions lies in her choice of targets.
“[Is it okay to steal?] No, but from large corporations, yes,” Zoe said. “It doesn’t affect the employees’ wages and I don’t steal from commission-based places.”
While theft does decrease profits of corporations, last year, the percentage of sales lost in the United States due to shoplifting was a mere 1.85 percent. And, in 2014, the Global Retail Barometer reported that retail staff steal from their employers more than the outside shoplifters do.
The stories of Jason and Zoe show that college kids are not stealing because they are immoral or rebellious. They are doing it because they feel it is their only choice.
Rent inflation and consistent increases in tuition have left CU Boulder students feeling desperate. Shoplifting is no more than an inevitable response to this desperation.
Shoplifting in Boulder is no longer just a crime; for many, it is a means to survival. Until rent and tuition prices become an accurate reflection of the product they sell, shoplifting will continue to be a frequent practice among college students, benefiting the individual more than it hurts the system.
Contact CU Independent Opinion Editor Hannah Metzger at firstname.lastname@example.org.