Why is there a coin shortage during the COVID-19 pandemic?

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LAST UPDATED: October 17, 2020 by Ryan M

The current national coin shortage is primarily due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Because so many businesses, including banks, have had to close or reduce hours, the typical circulation patterns for coins in the US economy has been significantly disrupted, according to the Federal Reserve. This has led to many stores and businesses putting up signs denoting that they cannot make change for purchases, or that they are only accepting electronic payments.

Despite conspiracy theories, the coin shortage is not due to the United States shifting to a cashless society. Businesses simply did not have very large amounts of coins on hand because of the pandemic closures. More specifically, people shifted much of their spending online and the high-volume, low-cost businesses, such as coffee shops and retail stores, that contribute to much of the coin circulation were closed. This meant that as the economy began opening back up, the demand for coins in circulation far outweighed the supply.

The coin shortage was only worsened by a slowdown in coin production by the US Mint during the early months of the pandemic, to ensure the safety of its employees. However, as the economy reopened, the US Mint began ramping up production. Beginning in June, they announced that 1.6 billion new coins would be minted each month for the remainder of the year, at least.

You may have also noticed that lately there are fewer types of canned drinks available at the grocery store. This is due to an aluminum shortage, another problem that is disrupting the economy for a similar reason to coins. As people stocked up on supplies, they emptied the shelves of drinks packaged in aluminum cans. The problem was that states with can deposit laws were not accepting returns, and some recycling centers were also closed.

So why is there an aluminum shortage? Because all the cans have been sitting in storage, refrigerators, and recycling bins in households across the country—like in Michigan, where residents stockpiled more than 800 million recyclable containers during the pandemic. And even though an aluminum can can be recycled and find its way back onto store shelves in as little as 60 days during normal times, they are not currently being returned into circulation fast enough for manufacturers to keep up. That means some of your favorite products will be hard to find at the grocery store, and some companies will have to make the tough decisions about which products to use their aluminum can inventory for and which will halt production.

INTERESTING FACTS

  1. Prior to 1804, American silver and gold coins were minted without values printed on them—you had to know their value based on size and weight.
  2. The US Mint doesn’t only make coins for America, it has produced coins for 40 other countries.
  3. The first US President to appear on a coin was Abraham Lincoln, on the penny, in 1909—his 100th birthday. Fifty years later, the Lincoln Memorial was added to the backside of the coin.
  4. The oldest coins in the world are over 2,600 years old, made of a gold and silver alloy, and traded in ancient Greece.
  5. Aluminum cans are the most recycled drink container on the planet, with nearly 70% of them being recycled.

INTERESTING VIDEO

INTERESTING REFERENCES

  1. USAToday.com – Fact check: Yes, there’s a national coin shortage. Here’s why
  2. HowStuffWorks.com – Why Is the U.S. Experiencing a Coin Shortage?
  3. FederalReserve.gov – Why do U.S. coins seem to be in short supply?
  4. CNBC.com – Two under-the-radar ways to play the aluminum can shortage

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