Apparent Reason / Opinion

Using Common Cents

2006, in my opinion, marked a notable point of change in the economy of the United States. By the end of that year, it cost the U.S. Mint more money to make a penny then what the penny was actually worth. Ridiculous. We were actually losing more money by making more money. For an institution in charge of managing our currency, it would have seemed logical to stop minting the penny. But fumble around your pockets and you’ll see that obviously did not happen. For whatever crazy reason, the U.S. Mint kept making pennies, and as of now, in 2014, it costs approximately 1.8 cents to mint one of these coins. For every penny it creates, the U.S. government is basically throwing another one in the trash to cover its costs.

Since pennies are worth more than what they are valued at, citizens have been melting down these coins for their metal. Smart, but it’s actually against the law. It may sound silly to say this, but destroying money is illegal. Obviously, this law isn’t in place to stop people from shredding one hundred dollar bank notes, though; it’s specifically for the purpose of keeping pennies in our system. What’s the punishment for this crime? It’s a draconian fine and/or imprisonment, with the maximum penalty set at five years.

So when was the last time you can remember actually using pennies to pay for something? Ever? Practically no vending machine or toll booth accepts them. Sure, you could use them during a cash transaction while out shopping, but you would look like a huge jerk. Go to the store and buy a gallon of milk with only pennies and see how many dirty looks you get. Extra points if someone flips you the bird.

We aren’t actually spending pennies on anything, so what are we using them for? Quite literally, nothing. Millions of Americans (including me) throw loose change in jars and coffee cans and forget about it, because there is nothing we can do with it. Good luck exchanging them for “real” money at a bank; they make you roll all your own coins. And if you’re in the mood for a rip off, use one of those Coinstar machines. Knowing you have nowhere else to go, they skim 10 percent off the top.

Getting rid of one-cent coins isn’t unheard of: several other countries like Australia and New Zealand have eliminated the penny from their currency, rounding all cash transactions to the nearest five cents. Despite worries from pro-penny activists, these countries have experienced neither a hit on their economy nor a reduction in charitable donations due to this change.

But those are other countries. This the die-hard, red-blooded, Lincoln-loving America who loves the penny ’cause it’s part of ’Murica, dammit. Think of this: even the military recognizes how useless the penny is. In bases overseas they now round cash transaction to the nearest five cents, and I’ve never heard of any soldier complaining. And as for Lincoln, you’ll still be seeing plenty of him; the five-dollar bill isn’t going anywhere.

There’s a nostalgic factor to the penny though. Our country has had it since the beginning. It is true that back in your grandpa’s good ol‘ day, a penny could buy a pack of gum, but thanks to inflation, much has changed today. As of right now, the penny is the most worthless coin in circulation in the history of the U.S.A. And it’s not like we haven’t been through this before. The U.S. used to have a half-cent coin, which we dumped in 1857. A half-cent coin in that year was worth about ten cents today, meaning that they basically cut out their equivalent of the dime. What I’m saying we should do is one-tenth of what they did back then. Get rid of the penny, and I think we’ll survive.

With all the reasons to get rid of the penny, who could possibly be for keeping it? The answer shouldn’t surprise you. The only group out there actively lobbying to keep the coin is Jarden Zinc Products, the Tennessee-based company responsible for providing penny blanks to the U.S. Mint. The rest of the US would benefit greatly if the penny were abandoned, yet we keep it in place because of this one company.

The “take a penny, leave a penny” boxes you see next to cash registers show how both stores and consumers recognize the worthlessness of the coin. Even President Obama has admitted that he has no idea why we still have the penny considering all of its disadvantages. Let’s start saving money, and cut out this coin.

Jay Grafft is lookin’ for a diiiiiime … or a nickel … really, just anything other than pennies.

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