How many people don’t have bank accounts? | Opinion


Pop quiz: In which year did the following appear in a news item?

“Right now, the last bastions of cash appear to be parking meters, five-and-dime stores, and supermarkets. And even the supermarkets are adapting to a cashless society.”

You’re probably smart enough to realize I wouldn’t be asking this if it came out yesterday, even though it sounds almost as fresh as this morning’s news alerts. (Maybe the supermarket section sounds a little stale. Fives and dimes have become dollar stores, though they often charge more, and many parking meters today require an app to use.)

But you may be surprised to discover that it was published on June 24, 1960.

I found it in The Town Talk of Alexandria, Louisiana, courtesy of It was under a headline that read, “Cashless Society Coming.”

Not sure how long an “offing” is. I’m guessing it should probably be a little less than 62 years old.

We’re still not there, but a recently released study by Pew Research Center shows we’re getting there soon, and we can probably thank the pandemic for propelling us forward. This change won’t come without problems either, and not just with the threat of identity theft.

The survey found that 41% of Americans say they don’t use cash for purchases in a typical week. That’s up from 29% in 2018. Among Americans with household incomes of $100,000 or more per year, the figure is 59% today.

And that suggests the biggest problem. Minorities and poorer Americans may be left behind in this economic shift. The futurists who were so big on this topic decades ago didn’t mention that danger. They were focused on the convenience of it all, like the 1969 news story I found that credit cards were a better fit for the lifestyles of people under the age of 35. The “mod” people, that’s maybe what they were called back then.

That would be the set under 88 today – a group you probably won’t see with Venmo or Apple Pay. Being “Mod” is apparently a fleeting state. The elderly and the poor share many of the same disadvantages.

Before I go much further, many of you may be wondering if it’s legal for a business to require purchases on credit only. According to the Federal Reserve, it is, unless local laws dictate otherwise. So far, this has been an issue of particular concern to liberals. A few major cities and blue-leaning states have passed ordinances and laws requiring merchants to accept cash, according to Massachusetts passed such a law as far back as 1978.

I don’t know if that will change or if this will be another front in the culture war. But a recent FDIC survey found that those who don’t have a bank account (and therefore can’t get credit or debit cards) are mostly the poor who can’t meet minimum deposit requirements (21.7%), and those who distrust banks and have concerns about privacy (together 21.6%).

Business groups tend to let companies do what they want. They tend to have the ear of the Republicans. But so is the distrustful crowd.

However either side feels, the tide toward a cashless America, just a trickle in 1960, is a wave today.

Brett Holzhauer recently wrote for Forbes calling for more investment in the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, which helps private banks serve low-income areas. A group called The Business Roundtable has pledged $1 billion to help these and minority institutions.

Ironically, the pandemic stimulus checks that began under Donald Trump’s Republican administration in recent years may have done the most to lend a hand to the unbanked. The FDIC survey shows that the number of people without a bank account will fall to 4.5% in 2021, the lowest level since the survey began in 2009.

Of those who opened an account for the first time after March 2020, 34.9% said an incentive scheme or expanded unemployment benefits contributed to their ability to do so.

What does all this mean?

The first lesson is that the trends we can clearly see often don’t happen as quickly as we expect. That could apply just as much to our view of electric and self-driving cars as it did to a cashless society in 1960. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start planning for it early.

Second, we cannot use government controls to solve this problem. Inflation and a rising national debt will be the result.

And third, regardless of politics, we cannot afford to ignore the poor, the mistrustful, or the elderly. Societies do not benefit from undercurrents of people who cannot fully participate in their economies. Policymakers and private companies need to work on that.

There is reason for hope. The number of people without a bank account has been falling steadily for years. We just need to make sure that real improvement is not just ahead.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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