Going ‘cashless’ promotes discrimination in our communities

Stuart Appelbaum, President Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, www.rwdsu.org | 4/11/2019, 10:28 a.m.

As more establishments refuse to accept cash, people without credit or debit cards are facing discrimination. Whether it’s at a self-service kiosk at a fast-food restaurant or a grocery store, or at a bar or restaurant that has signs announcing it’s a “cashless establishment,” or even an entire sports arena, such as the concession stands at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the concept of credit and debit card only commerce is starting to take hold.

Cashless commerce does more than just remove old-fashioned cash from the business of buying and selling goods, services and products. And despite what its proponents say, it isn’t more convenient—at least not for consumers.

Forcing customers to use only credit or debit is a discriminatory business model that disadvantages low-income people, people of color and seniors—all groups of people who are less likely to have bank accounts and credit cards. To have credit, a person must have a bank account, and to buy things without cash, a person must have credit. This means that people without a bank and a credit card cannot shop at these businesses, effectively excluding people from participating in the local economy.

The numbers show how cashless business discriminates and marginalizes people in our communities. Communities of color, seniors, low-income people, the disabled, and other marginalized households go unbanked at rates far higher than the national average. Close to 17 percent of African-American households and 14 percent of Latino households are unbanked, compared to an average of 6.5 percent nationally. In addition, about one in five households has no credit, making it difficult or impossible to obtain a credit card. New York City’s communities of color are far less likely to host a branch of a bank, yet another roadblock for consumers in a cashless society.

Fighting Cashless Legislatively

Legislative action is one way to protect consumers from discriminatory cashless business practices. In March, both Philadelphia and New Jersey banned all cashless business at stores and restaurants. Massachusetts has required retail businesses to accept cash since 1978, and the Washington D.C., city council is considering a bill to ban cash-free restaurants.

In New York City, the RWDSU supports Initiative 1281-2018 Prohibiting Retail Establishments from Refusing to Accept Payment in Cash. Protecting consumers and opposing discrimination helps all working people.