The nightmare of being unbaked in New York City

It was a hot summer evening, and all Hembert Figueroa wanted was a cool drink. He watched longingly as passersby slurped on iced juice and licked ice cream cones, which they’d probably bought with a simple swipe of their credit cards or tap of their phones. But Figueroa didn’t have a single dollar in cash to buy a bottle of water. He didn’t have a cent in his bank account either. In fact, he didn’t have an account at all.

Until recently, Figueroa, 44, was part of New York’s unbanked population—the nearly 360,000 households in the city that don’t have a banking account. When he first arrived in the United States four years ago from the Dominican Republic, others in the immigrant community told him to “stay invisible, anonymous,” which meant no IDs or credit cards. Whenever he sent money to his family back home, Figueroa sent it under his brother’s name out of fear.

People who don’t have a banking account have to use cash or other alternative forms of payment, like a prepaid card or check cashing service. Mostly to accommodate the needs of these residents, the City Council voted to ban cashless businesses in January, making New York the fourth city in the United States to make it illegal to deny cash payments.

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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.

The cashless society from an ethical point of view

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