What’s to make of the poor lit­tle penny?

Public Spirit - - OPINION -

Stand­ing three-deep in the take-out line at a Southamp­ton restau­rant, I sur­rep­ti­tiously ob­serve both cus­tomers ahead of me pay their bill in cash in­clud­ing pen­nies.

“Huh,” I think, “there’s some­thing you don’t see ev­ery day: paying in cash and us­ing pen­nies.”

When it’s my turn, I pro­duce plas­tic.

As we’ve in­creas­ingly be­come a cash-free so­ci­ety, the penny’s use and use­ful­ness have waned – to the point cus­tomers will­ingly leave them be­hind at the reg­is­ter for the next guy; de­lib­er­ately step over them if spot­ted on the ground, and stare in amaze­ment when de­tect­ing their use. They’re ob­so­lete, im­prac­ti­cal and a nui­sance, say some, and it’s time the coin cash-out of cir­cu­la­tion. Maybe. The U.S. Mint last year spent 2 cents to pro­duce and ship each of the 5.8 bil­lion pen­nies to banks. In ad­di­tion, the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Con­ve­nience Stores, among oth­ers, says do­ing away with the penny would save cashiers and their cus­tomers time at check­out.

But be­fore we do away with the lit­tle guy, as Canada re­cently did, let’s con­sider the UaPL­fi­caWLRnV. )RU Hx­aPSOH:

No longer a vi­able trivia ques­tion: whose face is on the penny? (Abra­ham Lin­coln)

Lost art: learn­ing to “make change” us­ing the penny.

,nvaOLG: BHn )UanNOLn’V state­ment that “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

No longer a hobby: the “penny col­lec­tion.”

DRRPHG: finGLng a “OucNy penny” isn’t. The penny couldn’t save it­self, af­ter all, right?

)RUgHW aERuW LW: “3Hnny candy” stands no chance at a come­back.

Spent say­ing: No one will un­der­stand or say “pen­nies from heaven.”

Should the penny dis­ap­pear, it will mean some changes for the con­sumer. Re­tail­ers will need to round prices to the near­est nickel. (Since most items I see for sale end in 98 or 99 cents, you know what this means, don’t you.) While busi­nesses state “round­ing” will save time, a study by Penn State Univer­sity Pro­fes­sor Ray­mond Lom­bra found con­sumers will pay a “round­ing tax” of $2 bil­lion to $4 bil­lion over the course of two years.

I’m left won­der­ing also what this means for Penn­syl­va­nia’s S per­cent sales tax? And has any­one con­sid­ered the ef­fect on the com­pany that makes the zinc and cop­per blanks turned into pen­nies by the Mint.

On the other side of the coin is the ar­gu­ment the penny has out­lived its use­ful­ness; is a money pit for the U.S. Trea­sury, and will have no ill ef­fect on con­sumers. To that end, a Wake )RUHVW 8nLvHUVLWy HcRnRPLcV study ex­am­ined thou­sands of con­ve­nience store pur­chases and found con­sumers as a group would break even if prices are “rounded,” while the coun­try’s econ­omy wRuOG EHnH­fiW ULGGLng LWVHOI of the coin.

But I bet you a penny it sur­vives. That’s my 2 cents worth on the mat­ter. Ante up and send me your thoughts.

Greg Vell­ner can be reached at gvell­ner@ver­i­zon.net.

Greg Vell­ner

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