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Is it worth it to pick up a penny?

Dear Cecil:

On the way home this morning I stopped to pick up two one-dollar bills which I assume someone lost in an alley. Reflecting on the decreasing value of the dollar led me to consider this question: is it worth it to pick up a penny? That is, considering the amount of energy expended and the cost of food required to provide said energy, can the penny be considered a profit?

Nick L., Chicago

Illustration by Slug Signorino

Cecil replies:

Let’s not make this any more complicated than we have to. The Scientific Research Team here at Straight Dope HQ has proven that a proficient penny-picker upper can probably pick up a particular penny in five seconds. On an hourly basis this works out to $7.20 per hour. As of 9/1/97, minimum wage will be a mere $5.15 an hour. Wherefore, if perchance a penny appears, pounce upon that puppy promptly, Poopsie. And pass that spittoon your way out. Please.

Cecil Adams

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