As of May 2010, it costs ~ 1.67¢ US (or $0.0167 US Dollars(USD)) to mint a penny, making the face value of a 1¢ penny less than its actual manufacturing value.
The cost of a penny is largely dictated by the materials used to make it. Pennies contain 97.5% zinc, with 2.5% copper to give them their distinctive coppery color. Prices of these metals have risen dramatically, in response to market demands and increasing regulation of mining, which has made the cost of metals extraction much higher.
The obvious solution to make a penny less expensive is to change the composition of the coin, integrating cheaper metals or perhaps even plastics, as is done with some European currency.
However, attempts at changing the composition of the penny have met with some opposition, since some people are concerned that changes in composition could change the look and feel of the iconic American coin, even though in 1943, the US Mint coined pennies in steel, in response to wartime demand for copper.
Others have suggested that it may be time to do away with the one cent penny altogether, a decision which would certainly change the way Americans do business, as well as anger people in the state of Illinois who's favorite iconic President Abraham Lincoln is on the penny.
In addition to the penny, the nickel also has a physical value which is higher than its face value; nickels cost around 7.7¢ US to make. Other currency, such as dimes and quarters, costs much less to make. The face value of a quarter may be 25¢ US, but it only costs 10¢ US to make one. In some people's opinions. The relative high cost to make a penny or a nickel is balanced out by the lower costs of producing the other coins. Still the debate over the fate of the little red cent continues.