Robbing for health insurance: The ethics of a bad economy
By Emily Hutto
I’ve been robbed and burglarized a lot in my life. My purse was stolen out of a friend’s car in Portland, a man jacked my wallet out of my purse on a dance floor in Amsterdam and a stranger lifted my camera out of my house during my college years in Eugene, among many other incidents. Several moves have taught me that this frequent theft is not location-specific. Whenever I would tell friends that I was robbed once again I usually got a response to the effect of, “The economy is just really bad right now.”
Bologna, I thought. Bad economy or not, there are ethics involved here and I am of the belief that when given the opportunity to choose to do right, people will.
As it turns out, my friends were right, and the FBI has statistics to prove it. In the GOOD article “The depressing rise of people robbing banks to pay the bills,” editor Cord Jefferson cites that 1,325 robberies, burglaries and other larcenies1 of banks were reported to the FBI in the third quarter of 2010. That was a 200 crime increase from 2009.
Jefferson’s article goes on to discuss who actually committed these crimes. He cites a woman who robbed a bank in Fresno who was found shortly after paying her gas bill. He also mentions a man who robbed a bank in Phoenix to make alimony payments, and a toothless woman in Pennsylvania who robbed a bank to pay for dentures. Jefferson writes, “There's quite a dichotomy between the bank robbers of early America, with their romantic escapades and exciting lifestyles, and the people following in their footsteps today: broke citizens with no jobs, no savings, no teeth and few options.”
One of these not-so-heroic bank robbers actually did so to get free health care. James Verone, a 59-year-old from North Carolina, made national headlines last summer when he marched into an RBC Bank in Gaston County, handed the teller a note demanding $1 (yes, just one dollar) and waited patiently to be arrested. He told reporters later that he hoped jail would provide him with medical care and a roof over his head. He didn’t get three years in prison for this “larceny,” which is what he was hoping for. He wanted to be in jail until he could collect Social Security.
These case studies are really skewing my views on ethics. While I still hold it’s immoral to steal, these people did it because they felt like they didn’t have another choice. They wanted warm places to sleep and food to eat. They wanted health benefits.
“The stealing rebel types we all came to love after reading the Robin Hood story are gone. Today the robbers are just trying to pay their gas bills,” says the last paragraph of the GOOD article. “There will be no movies for them.”
There might be a movie, though, about this great recession and what it’s doing to the morals of our citizens. There might also be a documentary or two made about theft prevention.
1 By definition, robbery is taking or attempting to take something of value from another person using force, threats or intimidation. Burglary is unlawful entry of a structure to commit felony or theft. Larceny is much like burglary, except the perpetrator does not illegally enter the structure where they commit the theft or felony. Definitions from whathappensnow.com