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Canadians are killing off their penny

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Kai Ryssdal: I have on the shelf in my office a jar full of pennies. Maybe, what, $20. $25 just sitting there collecting dust. Multiply that by a zillion similar jars across the country, and the fact that the cost to make a penny is now worth more than a penny, and you have to wonder why why the U.S. Mint keeps on crankin’ ’em out. But crank we do.

North of the border, though, no longer. Canada has decided enough is enough — that pennies just aren’t worth it anymore.

Marketplace’s David Gura reports.

David Gura: Pat Martin has been trying to get rid of the Canadian penny for six years now. He’s a member of Parliament from Manitoba.

Pat Martin: The government of Canada has finally seen fit to give the penny its proper due — a proper funeral.

Now, it’s going to be a slow death. The government won’t make any new pennies, but it’s still going to recognize them. Martin says making new pennies has cost the Canadian government somewhere between $10-20 million a year, and the coin has become a nuisance.

Martin: People don’t even pick them up off the street anymore in this country. They’ll walk right past them. It outlived its usefulness a long, long time ago, and I’m surprised it has taken us this long.

Thanks to inflation, the penny’s purchasing power is one-twentieth what it used to be. Martin says that, in Canada, cash transactions will change. 

Martin: Store owners and customers can round up and round down in a cash purchase to the nearest nickel.

And experts say all that will even out. So now, to the big question, as I break open a roll of American pennies: Is there any chance we’ll follow in Canada’s footsteps? Jeff Gore leads a group called Citizens for Retiring the Penny.

Jeff Gore: Many countries around the world have phased out their equivalent of the one-cent piece, and the sky has not fallen.

Like New Zealand, The Netherlands, and the list goes on. Gore, who is also an MIT physics professor, says he’s done the math, and at a time when the U.S. government is looking for ways to save money, getting rid of the penny, which costs almost two cents to make, would be a no-brainer. 

I’m David Gura for Marketplace.

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