WASHINGTON – John Sullivan wears a giant foam hat in the shape of a whale. It works well as a conversation starter when he panhandles on the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street in Georgetown. But one hot afternoon in July, no one stops to ask Sullivan about the whale. And no one stops to drop a dollar in his pink plastic cup.

Passing by, one young man in sunglasses turns and shrugs. “I don’t have any cash,” he says apologetically.

That’s a refrain Sullivan has heard a lot lately. He has panhandled in the same spot for almost 20 years and has a good rapport with the locals, who call him “the whale man.” But in the past three years or so, more and more pedestrians have been telling him that they no longer carry paper bills or loose change.

Sullivan’s good-natured about it: “I’ll see you next time,” he says with a smile if a passerby claims to have nothing but a credit card. Lots of people actually do come back the next day with change, he says – but still, he takes in only half what he once did.

Orlando Chase, who panhandles on the same corner as Sullivan, isn’t quite as patient as his friend. “They say they got credit cards,” he scoffs. “I gotta eat. I can’t eat with their credit cards. That’s a done deal.”

A decade ago, you probably wouldn’t have thought to go out without at least a crumpled $5 or $10 bill in your pocket. Nowadays, though, you can use credit cards just about anywhere – and a growing number of smartphone apps are letting us swap clumsy cash for simple swipes when paying a cabdriver, tipping a delivery guy or even splitting a tab with a friend.

It’s all very efficient. But for panhandlers and street vendors, all that efficiency just translates into a whole lot less generosity.

Within the next five to 10 years, the United States could become a “less-cash” or “cash-light” society. That’s the prediction of Harvard economist Kenneth S. Rogoff, who envisions a day when physical currency will be phased out of most legal transactions. A recent survey by Ipsos found that 38 percent of U.S. respondents would ditch cash completely if they could, while 34 percent report that they already rarely carry it.

For panhandlers, who rely entirely on the real stuff, that means less income, period. In Franklin Square in downtown …read more

Source:: The Denver Post – News

The panhandler’s lament: In an increasingly cashless world, fewer have a dime to spare

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