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The Penny Will Not Be Eliminated ... At Least Until 2015

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PENNY MINT
Mike Spinosa, a pit driver at the U.S. Mint, transfers one cent blanks before they are struck into pennies in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007. (Photo by Stephen Hilger/Bloomberg via Getty Images) | Bloomberg via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- Though it may be largely shunned by Americans and costs the government more money to make than it's actually worth, the penny is not going anywhere, at least until the year 2015.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that the cost of producing the copper-ish coin -- it's only 2.5 percent copper -- in 2013 once again exceeded its value. The same was true of the nickel, the penny's chunkier, slightly more valuable cousin.

All told, the U.S. Mint lost $105 million last year by producing pennies and nickels. The penny cost 1.8 cents to mint; the nickel cost 9.4 cents.

And yet, rather than stop wasting money producing pocket change, the U.S. government has decided to take its time. President Barack Obama has called for a comprehensive review to assess the future of currency and to develop alternative options for both the penny and the nickel. An administration official told The Huffington Post that "no conclusions have been made and we are doing research in FY 2015."

"This is the first comprehensive review of coins that has been done," the official said. "So we are undertaking all of this to make sure it is studied extensively."

What's to study? First, the government would have to figure out what to replace pennies and nickels with, or if they needed to be replaced at all. The metallic composition could also be changed to make them less expensive to produce.

But it's also possible that the government isn't entirely convinced that the coins will be as expensive to make in the future. According to the Mint's latest annual report, the cost of producing the penny has actually gone down over the last three years, from 2.4 cents to 2 cents to 1.8 cents. The nickel, likewise, has become cheaper to produce, going from 11.1 cents to 10 cents to 9.4 cents.

"We have brought down the costs, even as the price of metal has gone up," the official said.

An additional thing working in the penny's favor is that it doesn't put the U.S. Mint in the red. Under the Public Enterprise Fund, the Mint operates off the revenues it generates through selling circulating coins to the Federal Reserve Banks and collector's edition coins to the public. The profit it makes from these "numismatic products" is more than enough to withstand the loss suffered from its smallest currency.

The financing structure also means that the Mint doesn't require a congressional appropriation. But Congress still has a say in what happens to the penny. As the administration official noted, if it was ultimately determined that the penny had outlived its usefulness, the president could slow down production. But he couldn't simply remove it from circulation. To do that requires an act of Congress.

While the case against the penny is vast (the most comprehensive arguments are all listed here), the public still feels attached to the coin. A HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted in January found that only 34 percent of Americans are in favor of eliminating the penny, while 51 percent are opposed.

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