A Few Paychecks Away From Crime?

Within the past couple of months my employer has fired a handful of people.   I just heard that one of them in particular was just arrested for stealing copper wire and/or pipes out of houses to sell on the scrap market.   Theft of metals from abandoned/unoccupied homes has always been around, but it seems to have increased as the prices have gone up and the economy has gotten worse, as I pointed out recently in Saving Copper Pennies.   When I was a kid I remember a friend of mine’s dad who had worked as a siding salesmen telling me about jobs he worked on in East St. Louis where the siding was stolen in the middle of the night and sold for scrap.   People have been doing this for a while, but it seems like there’s a little more talk of this happening outside the areas that are completely ghetto these days.

Anyways, this guy lost a job that probably paid him $50-$60k a year with good benefits which allowed for a comfortable middle class lifestyle.  Unless this guy had some skills I don’t know about, there’s no way he could find another job that would pay him anywhere near that much.    He had to go home and tell his wife and kids that their standard of living was going to drop significantly from what they were used to because he did something stupid at work and got fired.   It was his fault that he got fired, but many people have lost jobs for no fault of their own over the past few years and have been forced to significantly scale back their lives.   The realization that if I were to lose the job I currently have, I would most likely not be able to find one that brought in anywhere near the income that I do has actually been one of the biggest motivators for me right now to practice some financial preparedness.   If I lost my job tomorrow, I would want to be able to know that I could pay my bills for a while and work on reinventing myself, rather than panicking and acting out of desperation.    Right now I find ways to live a little lower on the hog (while not foregoing the things that are actually important to me!) while saving, investing and attempting to build some skills and other income streams.

A while back ago I wrote an article entitled Working Poor:  Almost Half of US Households Live One Crisis From The Breadline analyzing a Huffington Post piece about how (as the title suggests) about half of the households in the US are in a situation where some kind of personal financial crisis would bankrupt them.    After hearing about my former co-worker it makes me wonder how many US households live one crisis away from crime?   You have to be very hard up to leave your wife and kids at night to go sneak through the night and yank copper wire out of houses to sell as scrap in order to pay the bills and keep food in the house.    Getting caught will probably land you some prison time or at least serious jail time in order to sell it for $3.30 or so (today’s prices) a pound.   Like I said earlier, he had only been out of work for a matter of a couple of months too.    While I’m sure he went out and did it in order to help his family, he won’t do anyone any good locked up.  I don’t write this to pass judgment on the guy or anything – I wish them the best of luck.

Thinking about this brought up three things to me:

1.   I hope I’m never in the same kind of situation as him where I act based on desperation and I’ll continue to do the things I’ve been doing in order to help my odds.

2.   You can only do so much for others, but my resolve is a little stronger to talk to people about things like getting your finances in order, living below your means and being prepared for things like this.

3.   I don’t believe that economics are the sole root cause of crime by any means, but I know that desperation is certainly a factor in some cases.   Should the economy get worse here, we can assume that more people will end up like my coworker and knocked from a more-or-less legit living to crime in order to get by.      There’s nothing we can do about large, general shifts in society but we can be more vigilant in securing our properties from the kinds of people who might want to take what we have.  I will most likely discuss home security and general OPSEC at a later date.

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