Waiting for Change: The Battle Over the U.S. Penny

When was the last time you stopped to pick up a penny? Considering most of us consider the one-cent coin almost worthless these days, it's probably been a while. Still, the U.S. penny persists

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When was the last time you stopped to pick up a penny? Given that its purchasing power has dwindled to nearly nothing over the years, it’s probably been a while. The U.S. penny persists — but how long can it hold on?

On Feb. 4, Canada will begin taking its pennies out of circulation, citing cost (it takes 1.6 cents to mint each one) and diminishing utility. And America’s anti-penny forces are hopeful that actions by our neighbor to the north will spur Washington to eliminate U.S. one-cent coins, each of which costs two cents to mint. Indeed, it gets increasingly difficult to defend a coin that costs us all money every year.

But there are forces fighting for the status quo as well, including the zinc lobby. (Pennies are mostly made of zinc, not copper.) Plus, there’s the fact that without the penny, we’ll become more reliant on the nickel — a coin with it’s own sticky set of issues.

Check out the latest TIME Explains video to get a sense of the U.S. penny’s persistent problems; and this week’s issue of TIME Magazine for the full story, “Waiting for Change.”