Sunday, June 26, 2022

Change for the Better

“Everyone always pays with plastic now”—you hear it constantly. But of course it’s not true. For one thing, there are still a good many Luddite oldsters like me who still use cash for the odd purchase. But there are also a lot of people who don’t carry plastic—people who are very poor, people who are homeless, people who don’t even have a bank account. It’s largely for that reason that we should make a point of always carrying some cash—all of us, that is, who don’t always say no to those asking for “spare change,” or to those who entertain us by busking on our streets. Imagine New Orleans or Nashville without street musicians; that vision could well become a reality if we give up carrying cash.

But it’s not just homeless people and street musicians who need us to be able to offer them small amounts of cash; it’s also a great many people who have traditionally depended on tips for a significant part of their income. Our tendency has long been to think of tips mainly in connection with dining out—and especially, in connection with dining out in sit-down restaurants. Over the course of the pandemic that perception shifted somewhat, as take-out and home delivery from restaurants became more and more popular. We grew much more used to adding 10% or 15% or 20% as a tip to the bill when paying with plastic in those situations. But there’s often no option to add a percentage when we buy fast food; the only way to tip those low-paid workers is usually with cash. And the same is true of the low-paid workers who clean your hotel room, or who do a range of other low-paid jobs. In an ideal world those people would simply be paid a living wage, and tips wouldn’t be needed. Sadly, we’re a long way from that sort of transformation; without the few dollars left with a hastily scrawled “thank you” on the bedside table for the hotel housekeeping worker, and without the fifty cents or dollar thrown in the tip jar for the fast-food worker who just served us, those people will struggle even more.

Let’s make their lives a little easier instead of a little harder. And let’s save street music in our cities. Let’s always keep a few coins in our pockets, and a few small bills in our wallets and purses. Change for the better.

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