Cashless society: low incomes pay the price

A little over a year ago, Linmay Studio in Evanston joined the growing number of businesses owners around the country no longer accepting cash.

The number of cashless businesses in the U.S. has increased over the last few years, spiking at the beginning of the pandemic in an effort to minimize interpersonal contact and mitigate the risk of infection.

Square, the mobile payment service that Linmay Studio uses, reported that on March 1, 8 percent of businesses using its products were effectively cashless, meaning that they accepted 95 percent or more of their transactions through credit or debit cards. By April 23, that number had climbed to 31 percent, indicating a spike in the number of businesses switching to a contactless model during the pandemic.

Lindsay Mayuga, hair colorist and owner of Linmay Studio, said she made the change to heighten security and to modernize the salon.

“I didn’t want to be working alone as a woman in the salon and have people coming in knowing I kept cash there,” Mayuga said. “It just elevated the experience from a professionalism standpoint to just have it be all like tech-y and not have it be so old fashioned.”

For Mayuga, the cashless movement seemed like a logical step in terms of safety. However, cashlessness has been met with strong criticism. Some activists and policymakers say cashlessness discriminates against people who rely on cash or do not have access to banking. In fact, Philadelphia, San Francisco and the state of New Jersey banned cashless stores in 2019.

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The cashless society from an ethical point of view

The debate about the move towards a cashless society has been at the center of the scene for several years, now. Various angles have been taken by economists, politicians, banking institutions and sociologists. Beyond the technicalities of the debate, lies the question of freedom, of inter-citizen solidarity and of governmental responsibility. The debate cannot remain in the hands of financial specialists, it is first and foremost an ethical, political and societal issue.

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