New York’s new law takes more air out of the cashless bubble

The Big Apple just joined other big cities in taking cashless off the table.

January 23, 2020

New Yorkers who dream of a cashless future just got a rude awakening.

The New York City Council voted yesterday to ban stores and restaurants from refusing cold, hard currency if customers want to use it.

The cashless movement had a moment, but cash really does rule everything

Bougie salad-spinners Sweetgreen announced their stores were going cashless in 2016, which made everyone more bitter than a fistful of arugula. The chain went slinking back to cash last spring.

Around the same time, a handful of big cities and states started declaring: Businesses, show us the money — in dollars and cents. 

Philadelphia was the first big city to pass a cashless ban, and San Francisco started requiring stores to take cash last summer.

Why cashless is controversial

Critics of the cashless lifestyle say it boxes out the poorest customers, who might not have bank accounts — let alone an expensive phone or watch for contactless payments.

Just how many people are we talking about? 

  • A 2017 survey by the FDIC estimated that nationally, more than 25% of American households were unbanked or underbanked.
  • That represents about 32m households in total. 

So for a lot of folks, the debate over cashless tech is about much more than just a few bucks.

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