Archived Story

Keeping the penny makes sense

Published 7:08pm Monday, November 18, 2013

A giant jar on my dresser holds hundreds of pennies, I’d estimate. Eventually, if things get tight, I’ll take them down, roll them and have a few bucks to spend on something.
If I’m walking somewhere and see a penny on the ground, there’s a 50 percent chance I’ll pick it up – but only if it’s lucky.
I have often offered a penny for someone’s thoughts, even when I knew I was overpaying. The dirty brown Lincoln penny is ingrained in our national consciousness.
But there is an unsentimental movement in the country to do away with these copper-clad zinc-filled one-cent pieces.
And I don’t like it one bit.
There have been pieces of penny-ante legislation in recent years aimed at eliminating that diminutive coin with Mr. Lincoln’s picture. Three were sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona. I find it impressive that he could win reelection so many times with such a piddling primary issue.
There was the Price Rounding Act of 1989 and the Legal Tender Modernization Act of 2001.
But in 2006, Kolbe really got his act together with a bill titled Currency Overhaul for an Industrious Nation. It’s not a truly important issue until there’s a nifty acronym, like the COIN bill of 2006.
Neither bill reached the desk of president Clinton or Bush. President Obama did sign the Coin Modernization, Oversight and Continuity Act in 2010, requiring regular reports from the Treasury on potential new materials for coin-making.
Obama also logged his openness to “de-cent-sitizing” the money supply in February of this year, though no bills were submitted.
A main line of criticism of the penny is the fact it’s produced at a loss. It cost the National Mint about 2.4 cents to make a single penny in February 2011 (the last year listed in my cursory research).
But if that’s the reason to get rid of the penny, then say goodbye to the nickel as well. Each nickel costs 11 cents to mint.
The arguments for preservation note the inherent unfairness of price rounding, since businesses are certain to make sure their prices round up, and never down. Who can blame them?
There’s also popular support, as around two thirds of Americans favored keeping the penny circulating.
There are also concerns that many of the costs associated with penny production are fixed and would be incurred by the mint whether they keep spinning out little brown Lincolns or not.
A consulting firm found the Mint would face additional production costs of almost $11 million if the penny were phased out.
My argument is even more basic. If not for the penny, I might not have had lunch on many occasions.
Quarters, dimes and even nickels get conscripted on a regular basis to make day-to-day purchases.
I’d rather scrape together 47 cents of silver from my seats and cupholders. But the pennies vanish less quickly, usually only topping off the price in groups of three, four or seven, in my experience.
But the pennies are there when I really need them. If I’m counting pennies, it matters.
And I can always rest assured that somewhere – the floorboard, the couch cushions, the pencil jar on my desk – there will be 107 or so pennies for a cheeseburger or taco off the dollar menu.
And my contributions to the young Goodwins’ piggy banks would suffer as well, since I would no longer be able to create the sounds of Father’s Benevolence in one-cent increments.
And where would elementary school charity drives be without the penny. Sure, the jars on the gas station counter get their share of quarters or dollars, but the penny gets it started.
It’s the gateway drug of charity.
There might be a hundred rational reasons the penny no longer makes sense.
But the coin’s primary place in the national consciousness outweighs them all in my mind. It just makes cents, err, sense.
Goodwin is a staff writer for The Outlook.