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Death of the Penny? Only Some Americans Want to Cut the Coin

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- A new report out shows that, while Canada may be eliminating its penny, Americans don't want to part with their copper. What may be surprising is the amount of money consumer save by keeping the penny.

Recurring surveys – the latest released today - by the Washington, D.C.-based Americans for Common Cents shows 66% of Americans favor keeping the penny in the nation’s currency system. (The ACC is a consortium of 50 groups that are working to highlight the benefits the penny provides to the economy and consumers).

But groups like the Citizens for Retiring the Penny point to Canada’s recent decision to ditch the penny and are lobbying for the U.S. government to do the same thing.

That effort may be an uphill fight, as Americans' support for the penny has remained stable over the years.

Consider the track record of support during the past 20-plus years. In 1990, a Gallup poll showed that 67% of Americans favored keeping the penny in circulation. Furthermore, 62% of survey respondents said they would oppose legislation to keep the penny off the market. In the past 10 years, two bills introduced in Congress that would eliminate the copper currency failed to generate support.

A 1996 report by Princeton, N.J.-based Opinion Research Corporation found that 73% of Americans wanted to keep the penny in circulation.

That’s a strong track record in support of the venerable penny, especially amidst gathering evidence that eliminating it could cost consumers some serious coin, according to the ACC.

"These results confirm the strong and unwavering support the penny continues to receive from America," Mark Weller, executive director of the ACC, said in a statement. "Americans understand that eliminating the penny would lead to a rounding process and cost them hundreds of millions of dollars in higher prices.”

The ACC has shifted into high gear after the announcement that the Canadian government has opted to eliminate its penny. The government has asked the U.S. Mint to study ways that could make production of the penny cheaper, but a recommendation likely won’t be out until after the fall election season, the ACC says.

Uncle Sam eliminated the half penny more than 150 years ago, and groups like Citizens for Retiring the Penny say the cost of producing the penny means it’s high time to take the ubiquitous coin out of circulation, too.

“The half penny was eliminated in 1858, when it was worth over 10 times what the penny is worth today,” says the CRP in a statement.  “Assuming that the timing was correct before, this means that we should have eliminated the penny 50 years ago. The penny is now worth so little that nobody even picks it up off the ground, despite the old 'lucky penny' adage.”

The groups says it costs the Mint $100 million to produce 7 billion pennies annually, about 33% of which goes to paying for the zinc needed to make the coins.

But consumers may have a vested interest in keeping the penny in play. 77% of respondents in the ACC survey said they were against rounding cash transactions to the nearest nickel, fearing it would lead to higher consumer prices. "The alternative to the penny is rounding – something that Americans abhor," the ACC’s Weller adds.

For now, any talk of eliminating the penny is premature, even as Canada goes penniless. With bigger economic problems on its docket, don’t expect Congress to follow Canada’s lead anytime soon.

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