Jiyoon Han’s family owns Bean & Bean Coffee Roasters, a chain of coffee shops in New York and New Jersey. Some of them were closed for months because of COVID-19. When they reopened, employees had a problem: They kept running out of coins. “Getting change was just not possible for weeks,” Han told TIME for Kids.
Other businesses have had this issue. Supermarkets are asking customers to pay electronically or with exact change. Until recently, banks were unable to order their usual supply of coins from the government. What’s going on?
There’s a coin shortage in the United States. In spring 2020, fewer coins were made at the U.S. Mint because of COVID-19 health restrictions. In June, the government limited the distribution of coins to banks.
Karen Dynan teaches economics at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She has also worked for the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Dynan says there’s a bigger reason for the shortage. People aren’t going out and spending as much. “Coins have not disappeared,” she says. “They’re in people’s homes.”
In July, a U.S. Coin Task Force was created to fix the shortage. Things are beginning to improve. On January 13, the government said banks will no longer face limits on their coin orders. The coin shortage may soon be a thing of the past.
Do Coins Matter?
People aren’t using cash as much. Electronic payment has become more common. “We were already moving toward a cashless economy,” Dynan says. “The virus has just accelerated all of that.”
Tae Kang owns the New Look Hand Car Wash. That’s in Rochelle Park, New Jersey. “We’ve noticed more people paying electronically,” he says.
So do we still need coins? For now, the answer is yes. Dynan has a suggestion to help end the shortage. You can make “a special trip” to exchange your coins for bills at a bank or spend them at a store.