A new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco shows that, measured in dollar terms, there is 42 percent more cash in circulation today than five years ago.
Many economists believe that the rise in cash is strongly related to growth in the "underground economy" of criminal activity including drug dealing and tax evasion. The New York Times reports that these claims are supported by the reported distribution of currency denominations.
The report shows that 84 percent of the increase in cash since 1990 has been in the form of $100 bills, which now represent 77 percent of the value of cash outstanding in 2012, up from 52 percent in 1990. According to a separate Federal Reserve study, the majority of U.S. currency held abroad is $100 bills, and 65 percent of all $100 bills in existence circulate outside the United States.
Some countries in the Eurozone have withdrawn 500-euro notes to curb criminal activity, with BBC News reporting that they were the money-laundering "note of choice." Now, criminals will have to fall back on stuffing $1million in $100 bills into their briefcases.