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Americans Getting Centimental About the Penny

May 24, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Most Americans hate being nickel-and-dimed, but try to take away their pennies and they get downright centimental.

A Gallup survey released Wednesday showed nearly two out of three penny- pinching Americans give no quarter to an idea floating in Congress to have cash transactions rounded off to the nearest 5 cents.

A House Banking subcommittee requested a study on the idea - which the Gallup respondents obviously considered penny-ante - as part of another bill that would replace the one-dollar bill with a coin.

The proposal would keep pennies as legal tender ″to a maximum of 25 cents, only if used in quantities divisible by 5 without fraction or remainder.″

That’s the legislative way of saying you could use up your pennies only in groups of five and no more than 25 at one time.

Rubbish, say 62 percent of the Americans surveyed, who find the idea penny- wise and pound-foolish.

Some people might regard the penny as a nuisance. Stores often keep a cup of pennies at the cash register so customers don’t have to dig to the bottoms of their purses and pockets for lint-covered coins.

Pennies no longer have much use. Games at penny arcades cost 50 cents. Penny gumballs are still available out of drugstore machines. Few people even pitch pennies anymore.

The most common use of pennies is to help pay for items priced at levels not divisible by five.

But introduce a bill in Congress to do away with them, and Americans begin to sound like Benjamin Franklin.

″Almost all Americans recognize the penny as a historical example of thrift and resourcefulness,″ the survey said, with 92 percent agreeing with the statement that the penny is ″a longstanding tradition in this country.″ Sixty-two percent said they opposed its demise.

The survey, commissioned by a group called Americans for Common Cents, also showed people have common-sense concerns - for example, how many merchants will round down their prices?

Seventy-seven percent said they are worried that merchants will raise prices to compensate for losses due to rounding.

The survey of 750 adults, conducted by telephone between April 23 and April 26, has a margin of potential sampling error of plus or minus 4 percent.

The pending House bill, introduced last year by Rep. Jimmy Hayes, D-La., calls for rounding the sales price down to the nearest nickel if the price ends in 1, 2, 6 or 7 cents; the price would be rounded up if the sum ends in 3, 4, 8 or 9 cents. An exception: If someone still insisted on selling something for one or two pennies, you’d have to scrape them up, not try to round down to zero.

The Treasury still would make pennies, but only for collectors.

The survey revealed that women are more loyal to the penny than men, with 70 percent of women opposing the change and 54 percent of men. Women also were more worried about inflation caused by doing away with the penny - 63 percent of women were ″very concerned″ about price hikes compared to 44 percent of men.

College graduates were less concerned about the penny than those who did not attend college. The well-to-do were less concerned than poorer people. Those who live in the South and Midwest were the strongest supporters of the penny.

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