If there were more people like John Laskowski of Erie, Pa., a lot of federal employees would not be drawing overtime pay to produce pennies.
Laskowski recently deposited 89,650 pennies at Erie's National City Bank, effectively eliminating the bank's penny shortage. But many banks along the East Coast, don't have a Laskowski or enough other people willing to empty their mayonnaise jars, coffee cans or other containers filled with pennies.
The result is the great penny shortage of 1999, a mini-crisis that has forced the U.S. Mint into around-the-clock operations six days a week at its plants in Philadelphia and Denver. Penny production is 21 percent ahead of 1994, the year of the last great penny shortage, and 33 percent ahead of last year, the Mint said.
The shortage is more severe in the East and Midwest.
Statistically, there shouldn't be a crisis. The Mint says it has issued more than 312 billion pennies over the past 30 years, enough to provide each American with 426 pennies.
"It's hard for us to tell us why it's happening," said Rose Pianalto, a spokeswoman for the Federal Reserve in Washington. "There just is more of a demand. And the Mint hasn't been able to keep up with the demand.
"The economy is strong, people aren't recirculating," she said. "And summer is always a high demand period for coins. This is just the season for it."
Donn Pearlmann of the Professional Numismatists Guild, a group of coin and currency experts, blames the banks. "People stash pennies away in old coffee cans and sock drawers because most banks do not want to accept large amounts of loose coins; they want them rolled and sorted."
Pianalto said the Fed has been encouraging banks to accept coins from customers. For the moment, however, the penny shortage remains. Said Pianalto: "Everybody is going to be a little pinched."