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What is difference between Panhandler and beggar?

Both panhandling and begging refer to asking strangers for money, but there are some key differences between the two terms.


Panhandling typically refers to asking for money in public spaces, like on sidewalks, public transportation, or outside businesses. Panhandlers often make requests for money verbally, with signs, or by offering small items or services in exchange for donations.

Begging has a broader definition and can refer to asking for any type of charity, including money, food, and other necessities. Begging can occur in both public and private spaces.


In many areas, panhandling is either legal or falls into a legal gray area. Unless panhandling becomes aggressive or disruptive, it is often protected as free speech under the First Amendment in the United States.

Begging is typically more restricted by loitering laws, permit requirements, and bans on begging in certain public places. Aggressive forms of begging may be prohibited.

Financial Need

Panhandlers typically engage in their activities due to extreme poverty and financial need. Many panhandlers are chronically homeless or have disabilities, mental illnesses, or substance abuse issues that make it difficult to find traditional employment.

While beggars also frequently come from disadvantaged backgrounds, begging is not solely limited to those living in poverty. Some beggars have alternative sources of income and may beg out of convenience rather than necessity.

Typical Locations

Common locations for panhandling include:

  • Street corners and intersections
  • Sidewalks near high foot traffic areas
  • Public transportation stations and vehicles
  • Entrances to stores, restaurants, and other businesses
  • Parking lots and gas stations

Beggars may beg at the above locations as well, but are also more likely than panhandlers to go door-to-door or beg in other private spaces like homes, backyards, places of worship, and more.

Methods and Approaches

Some common panhandling approaches include:

  • Holding a sign requesting money for basic necessities like food
  • Offering to perform a small service like opening doors or carrying bags in exchange for change
  • Providing a small item like a flower, sticker, or piece of art in exchange for a donation
  • Verbal requests for spare change

Beggars use a wider variety of approaches, which can include:

  • Door-to-door solicitation for money or other help
  • Leaving notes describing their situation and requesting aid
  • Asking for donations of food, clothing, or other necessities
  • Requesting small jobs or work in exchange for charity
  • Asking acquaintances, friends, family, and neighbors for direct assistance

Public Perception

Panhandling and begging are controversial practices that are viewed in different ways by the public.

Some of the most common views on panhandlers include:

  • They have legitimate needs and should be helped
  • They should be connected with social services and shelters instead of being given money directly
  • Many are scammers who don’t really need help
  • They make areas feel unsafe or uncomfortable
  • Panhandling should be banned
  • More policies and programs are needed to reduce panhandling

Begging is sometimes viewed more sympathetically, but also has many negative associations, such as:

  • Begging is lazy and undignified
  • People who beg are trying to avoid work
  • Begging scams are common
  • It enables addiction issues
  • Begging should never be rewarded or encouraged

Associated Issues

Issues that are often associated with panhandling include:

  • Aggressive or threatening behavior toward people who don’t give money
  • Public intoxication on drugs or alcohol
  • Panhandling scams like pretending to be homeless, veterans, disabled, etc.
  • The presence of panhandlers making areas seem unsafe
  • Contributing to the continuing cycle of homelessness and poverty when money is given

Begging has some similar associated issues, such as:

  • Scams and dishonest claims of need
  • Using charity to buy drugs, alcohol, or other non-necessities
  • Encouraging dependency and refusal to work
  • Bringing crime into neighborhoods through door-to-door begging


Some key statistics on panhandling and begging include:

  • In a 2019 survey, 36% of U.S. adults said they gave money to a panhandler in the past month.
  • Around 0.5-1% of the U.S. population panhandles as their primary source of income.
  • 70% of panhandlers are estimated to be homeless.
  • The vast majority of panhandlers (80-95%) use the money they collect to buy basic necessities like food, clothes, and transportation.
  • Only about 20-25% of beggars in the U.S. are actually homeless.
  • Around 25-50% of door-to-door beggars are scammers pretending to be in need.
  • In one study, over 75% of beggars admitted they did not need to beg to survive and had other sources of income.

Percentage of People Who Give Money to Panhandlers

Age Group Percentage Who Give
18-29 49%
30-49 39%
50-64 31%
65+ 21%

This table shows how the percentage of people who give money to panhandlers decreases significantly with age, with young adults nearly two and a half times more likely to give than seniors.


Research on the effectiveness of panhandling and begging shows mixed results:

  • The median panhandler collects about $30-50 per day in a typical urban area.
  • Skilled panhandlers in high-traffic locations can sometimes earn over $100/day.
  • Around 75% of door-to-door begging requests result in no donation at all.
  • But door-to-door begging has a higher average donation size from those who do give.
  • Factors impacting earnings include location, sign messaging, appearance, demographics, skills, and persistence.

So while panhandling and begging can be unreliable sources of income, some are able to earn substantial tax-free money through these methods.


Some alternatives to giving money directly to panhandlers and beggars include:

  • Donating to reputable aid organizations that provide housing, training, counseling, and employment programs
  • Volunteering your time at shelters, food banks, and other charitable organizations
  • Offering food, water, clothing, or other necessities instead of cash
  • Supporting policies and public assistance programs to reduce poverty and homelessness
  • Providing information about local social services and resources
  • Engaging in respectful conversation instead of giving money

These types of alternatives can provide more meaningful and constructive assistance to those in need.


While panhandling and begging share some common traits, there are important distinctions between the two terms. Key differences include their legality, locations, approaches, public perception, issues, demographics, and effectiveness. Neither panhandling nor begging offers an ideal solution for those living in poverty. But understanding the complexity of these activities can lead to more thoughtful personal and policy responses to those who engage in them.