Just read a fun, informative piece in the March 31 New Yorker, “Penny Dreadful,” about small denomination coins and why they persist. It costs 1.5 cents to mint a penny, 10 cents to mint a nickel, “a condition known in the coin world as ‘negative seigniorage,'” David Owen writes.
Efforts in Congress to stop producing pennies have been blocked — in 1990, 2001 and 2006 — by the powerful zinc lobby (seriously), which commissioned research on how much “rounding up” by merchants might cost consumers. In 1990, an average of $2 per American. Gasp!
Owen is skeptical of the impact. He notes that Americans are so anxious to be rid of pennies and other change that they’re willing to pay Coinstar’s fee of 8.9 percent of any amount fed into its supermarket redemption machines. He proposes dumping the nickel and dime while we’re at it.
One fun statistic from his article: “Breaking stride to pick up a penny, if it takes more than 6.15 seconds, pays less than the federal minimum wage.”
I still pick up pennies. My big thrill, though, came three years or so ago at Pomona College, when lying there on the sidewalk was a $20 bill, with no one around. Needless to say, that was worth stooping over for.