Why Do We Need So Many Pennies?

Last night I happened to be looking at an old book of pennies and I was struck by the number of pennies minted each year. It’s gone up a lot since I was born. Here is penny production over my lifetime:

In 1958 we produced six pennies for every person in the United States. In 1982 that peaked at 72 pennies per person. Last year we minted 26 pennies per person.

Why the huge increase from 1958 through 1982? And why the decrease since then? I spent a few seconds googling this, but turned up nothing except an endless supply of rants about how we should get rid of the penny entirely. A few thoughts:

  • On a per-transaction basis, you never need more than four pennies per transaction. Given the randomness of sales taxes and the number of items purchased, I’d bet that the average number of pennies used per transaction hasn’t changed much.
  • As credit and debit cards became more popular, the number of cash transactions has probably decreased. This might explain the decline since 1982.
  • Does the increase through 1982 have something to do with people keeping pennies in their pockets less and instead tossing them into a coffee can when they get home? I have no reason to think this habit has changed over the years, and it would reach a steady state pretty quickly anyway. I don’t think this is likely to be a factor.
  • Production nearly doubled from 1978 through 1982 and then nearly halved from 1982 through 1986. What’s up with that huge spike?
  • Why the gigantic decline in 2009? On a per-capita basis, it was the lowest penny producing year since the year I was born. Does it have something to do with the financial crash?

It’s mysterious. The more people rant about eliminating the penny, the more pennies we make. We are a peculiar people, aren’t we?

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate