Penny Problem: Not Worth Metal It's Made Of

The coin costs nearly 1.7 cents to make, so America loses money on each one.

ByABC News
February 12, 2009, 12:10 PM

March 16, 2008 -- The saying goes, "See a penny, pick it up, all day long you'll have good luck."

But these days, the penny itself isn't having much luck. Not only is there nothing you can buy with a penny, it's literally not worth the metal it's made of.

With the rising cost of metals like copper and zinc, that one red cent is literally putting us in the red.

"It costs almost 1.7 cents to make a penny," said U.S. Mint director Ed Moy.

Each year, the U.S. Mint makes 8 billion pennies, at a cost of $130 million. American taxpayers lose nearly $50 million in the process.

The penny's not alone. It costs nearly 10 cents to make a nickel.

On Friday, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said he thought the penny should be eliminated, but he admitted that he didn't think it was "politically doable," and said he was not going to push the issue.

Congress held a hearing last week on a proposal to make both coins out of cheaper metals, even steel. They say it would save taxpayers more than $100 million.

But for now, tossing the penny altogether is not under consideration.

"One reason there is a lasting attachment to those coins is because they are a part of our country's history," Moy said.

The penny has plenty of history. It was the first U.S. coin to feature a president: Abraham Lincoln.

Next year, the mint plans to issue a new penny commemorating the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth.

That means more pennies for us to pocket.