GOOD

The Depressing Rise of People Robbing Banks to Pay the Bills

Bank robberies are on the rise, but gone are the glamorous thieves of old. Today, people are just trying to pay their rent.


Despite inflation decreasing their value, bank robberies are on the rise in the United States. According to the FBI, in the third quarter of 2010, banks reported 1,325 bank robberies, burglaries, or other larcenies, an increase of more than 200 crimes from the same quarter in 2009. America isn't the easiest place to succeed financially these days, a predicament that's finding more and more people doing desperate things to obtain money. Robbing banks is nothing new, of course; it's been a popular crime for anyone looking to get quick cash practically since America began. But the face and nature of robbers is changing. These days, the once glamorous sheen of bank robberies is wearing away, exposing a far sadder and ugly reality: Today's bank robbers are just trying to keep their heads above water.

Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson—time was that bank robbers had cool names and widespread celebrity. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Jesse James, and John Dillinger were even the subjects of big, fawning Hollywood films glorifying their thievery. But times have changed.


In Mississippi this week, a man walked into a bank and handed a teller a note demanding money, according to broadcast news reporter Brittany Weiss. The man got away with a paltry $1,600 before proceeding to run errands around town to pay his bills and write checks to people to whom he owed money. He was hanging out with his mom when police finally found him. Three weeks before the Mississippi fiasco, a woman named Gwendolyn Cunningham robbed a bank in Fresno and fled in her car. Minutes later, police spotted Cunningham's car in front of downtown Fresno's Pacific Gas and Electric Building. Inside, she was trying to pay her gas bill.

The list goes on: In October 2011, a Phoenix-area man stole $2,300 to pay bills and make his alimony payments. In early 2010, an elderly man on Social Security started robbing banks in an effort to avoid foreclosure on the house he and his wife had lived in for two decades. In January 2011, a 46-year-old Ohio woman robbed a bank to pay past-due bills. And in February of this year, a Pennsylvania woman with no teeth confessed to robbing a bank to pay for dentures. "I'm very sorry for what I did and I know God is going to punish me for it," she said at her arraignment. Yet perhaps none of this compares to the man who, in June 2011, robbed a bank of $1 just so he could be taken to prison and get medical care he couldn't afford.

None of this is to say that a life of crime is admirable or courageous, and though there is no way to accurately quantify it, there are probably still many bank robbers who steal just because they like the thrill of money for nothing. But 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.

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. There will be no movies for them.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user colin.brown

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