Middle America Is Crazy About Bitcoin
If you’re not buying Bitcoin, you’re not keeping up with the Joneses.
The American middle class is falling in love with the unregulated cryptocurrency‘s skyrocketing value, which hit a record-breaking $4,400 in August, a 600 percent year-over-year increase.
There are now more Google searches for Bitcoin than for Beyoncé. It’s not just bankers and techno-nerds buying up this “digital gold,” hoping to sell them for more later, but flight attendants, ironworkers, and small business owners.
One of them, Ryan Williams, a 35-year-old school bus driver, admits he doesn’t fully understand how Bitcoin or its rivals work.
But he does know it’s been a hot summer and his two kids have been bugging him for a pool.
“I said I can’t afford it,” said Williams. Then he remembered, “Wait, I have Bitcoin.”
His Bitcoins are kept in a digital wallet, a kind of online account for cryptocurrencies. He transferred a portion of them to his “BitPay” card, a debit card designed to make it easier to spend Bitcoins at brick-and-mortar stores.
Then he went to Walmart, found a 15×36 above-ground “Summer Waves” pool for $150 and swiped his BitPay card at the cash register.
The pool was the hit of the the Fourth of July party in the backyard of his two-story house in suburban Delaware. As the kids splashed around, his guests asked him how he afforded it.
“Bitcoin paid for it,” said Williams.
Now his brothers and mom, who work in nursing, are investing in Bitcoin and other cryptocoins too.
“I do think we’re seeing more ‘normal people’ invest in crypto assets,” said Olaf Carlson Wee, the founder of Polychain capital, a digital asset hedge fund.
One of the larger Bitcoin wallet sites, Blockchain, now boasts over 15 million accounts as interest has grown.
These armchair speculators aren’t necessarily interested in how “cryptocurrencies” allow users to conduct virtually anonymous financial transactions. Or how they use a “blockchain” to post everything on a “public ledger” to verify transactions without a bank. Or how it could subvert traditional global power structures to have a popular kind of currency backed not by gold or an army, but bits of ones and zeroes. (And if you need to know more about how it all works, this is a great explainer).
They just want a piece of the action.
“It’s like being in Apple at 10 cents,” said Greg Salerno, a 39-year-old ironworker from Hoboken, New Jersey.
He put $1,600 in Bitcoin. Now they’re worth over $20,000.
“In five to 10 years you could be sitting on something nice,” said Salerno.
After hearing about his success, his coworkers come to him for advice.