quarter short change

Photo by Kim Gorga on Unsplash

A recent article in The Seattle Times goes into some detail about yet another pandemic supply issue. Apparently, the shortage of loose change… specifically 25 cent coins… is wreaking havoc on the non-digital money economy.

Coin laundries and other analog businesses that haven’t switched to something less tangible are suffering. And, like any other shortage, black markets and work arounds have cropped up to fill the need.

“Indeed, the Great Quarter Shortage has exposed another social and economic divide as a subset of consumers and businesses must scramble to replace what COVID has made scarce. The result is a kind of two-bit black market, rife with clever workarounds and conspiracy theories, and no small amount of social friction.” — Dan White (The Seattle Times, 11/23/21)

According to the Fed, the problem isn’t the lack of quarters but that people aren’t spending them.

“[M]any of the roughly 55 billion quarters estimated to be in circulation have been stranded by the pandemic in places — under your couch cushions, say, or in your console coin holder — where the coin-operated economy can’t touch them.”

Of course, in 2020 those of us able to side step cash exchanges did. Many businesses here in Louisville went to only accepting cashless payments.

The article focused on economic impacts to coin-based businesses but overlooked the other part of that economy: people who use coin-based businesses… other than to tell them, via the Federal Reserve, that people outside the digital economy are to blame and simply need to let loose of the loose change in their couches and vehicle cup holders. Not that this response isn’t typical. We blame the poor for their poverty, the starving for their hunger, and then make them social pariahs when they reach out for help.

People able to access and live within the digital economy tend to take if for granted. People who have never been persona non grata in this country have no idea just how difficult it is to access the system if the system has rejected you. When I worked in a homeless day shelter last year I tried to help folks get state and federal identification… state IDs, social security cards, birth certificates. But since all federal offices were closed, and many state offices across the country were also closed, this had to be accomplished either online or via USPS.

But if you don’t have access to the digital economy, changes are you don’t have computer access or the basic computing skills to access and use governmental websites. Fine. We helped with that.

Then there’s the roundabout of identification. To get a copy of your social security card via the mail (since you can’t prove who you are in person) you have to mail them your state ID a copy of your birth certificate. In order to get a copy of your birth certificate you need to provide a state ID and often times your social security card. And because we were dealing with a transient population, it because a 50 state problem. True, we were able to get them state issued IDs. But if they went to get a job… and keep in mind that more than 50% of homeless folks in America actually do work … they couldn’t complete HR and Homeland Security I9 requirements that demand a state ID and a social security card or a passport. The Social Security office has a form that most HR departments will accept until the card arrives in the mail.

But there was no way to get the form except for in person. And there was no way to meet with anyone in person.

Once you’re outside the system, the system does not make it easy to get back in. And those of us who are able to mediate BOTH digital and analog economies sometimes forget that not everyone has a cell phone, computer access or a debit card.

You’re probably reading this right now thinking that not using your cell phone or computer sounds like a vacation. Try it. Then also try not using streaming services on your smart TV or cable (if you’re still overpaying for that shit). See how long you last. Bet you won’t last longer than a day before your brain starts screaming at you.




Writer. Raconteur. Too many interests to list, so just keep reading.

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Ey Mick

Ey Mick

Writer. Raconteur. Too many interests to list, so just keep reading.

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