How panhandlers will have to adapt as our economy goes cashless

Global Business

How panhandlers will have to adapt as our economy goes cashless

The world is increasingly moving towards a cashless society—and China is leading the way.

According to research by Tencent, Chinese consumers spent 5.5 trillion dollars via mobile payments last year. That’s roughly 50 times more than American consumers. But going cashless truly is a global phenomenon and one that could hurt some of the world’s most vulnerable populations like panhandlers—unless they adapt.

CGTN’s Karina Huber reports.

Surviving in New York isn’t easy for many people, but for the city’s panhandlers it’s particularly hard to make ends meet.

Ash, an experienced panhandler, feels like one of the lucky ones. He’s savvy but subtle.

“I believe in people’s right to be able to walk the streets without being harassed,” said Ash. “So, I let my signs do the talking.”

Persistence and industriousness have helped him stay afloat. But panhandlers in the U.S. face a new existential threat—cashlessness.

Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff predicts the U.S. will become a cashless or ‘cash-light’ society within the next five to ten years. If that happens, fewer people will have spare change to give to panhandlers.

Ash is adapting.

“When people come by they say, ‘oh I don’t have any cash.’ I said,  ‘that’s ok. I take debit and credit and they just laugh.’ A lot of them are just floored,” said Ash.

Ash has a credit and debit card processor linked to his Paypal account.

“It’s easy to do. It’s easy if you want to learn it, but for those who are not willing to adjust, they’re just going to be lost,” said Ash.

Apps like Samaritan are popping up to help panhandlers collect money, but they haven’t yet achieved widespread adoption.

Brendan O’Flaherty a Columbia University economist says that’s, in part, because they need to be more palatable to both parties. Donors want more information about who they’re giving money to. Panhandlers want a greater say in how the money can be used.

Ultimately, he believes panhandling will survive.

“Panhandling was around at least 2000 years ago. There aren’t many things that have survived that long – that many changes,” said O’Flaherty.

Ash says no one has felt comfortable paying him through PayPal yet but he believes that will soon change.

“As we ramp this up and get into more automation– as the public gets used to this – I’ll probably have more takers,” he said.