The last days of the U.S. Postal Service

I’ve always been a fan of the U.S. Postal Service.  Imagine being able to deliver a document from any point in the United States to any other point—say, from a village in Alaska to a retirement community in Florida—for a flat rate of 46 cents.   If this service didn’t exist, and a private carrier would offer to do it for $4.60, this would be regarded as a triumph of free enterprise.

But the U.S. Postal Service is dying.  It is not dying a natural death.  It is being euthanized by conservative Republicans in Congress with the silent consent of liberal Democrats.

fed_employees_us_budget_savings_chartRevenues and volume of mail are declining, but this is not the problem. The problem is a law enacted in 2006 which requires the Postal Service pre-fund retiree health benefits 75 years in advance, a requirement that no private company has to meet, and that requires the Postal Service to pay $5.5 billion into the Treasury every year.  The 2006 law also forbids the Postal Service to offer new products that would give it an “unfair or otherwise inappropriate competitive advantage.”

The Postal Service is required to (1) provide a minimum level of public service regardless of economics, (2) refrain from competing with private business and (3) earn a profit.  I would say: Pick any two.  Meeting all three requirements is a logical impossibility.

While the Postal Service is required to operate like a public business, it is forbidden to do the things that private businesses do.   Among the things that Congress has forbidden over the year is to offer bulk discounts to mailers, to advertise that its express mail rates are lower than United Parcel Service or Federal Express overnight rates, to provide public-use copiers in post offices, or to set up a service on-line service to pay bills.

At the same time the Postal Service is required (rightly) to provide a minimum level of service to the public.   Mail delivery is one of the core functions of government defined in the Constitution, and it is a necessity for many Americans.  As David Morris reported for AlterNet.

In rural areas, the local post office may be the only community gathering place remaining, a place to meet one’s neighbors and share truly local needs and news. In a nation where more than one in five votes are cast by mail and in some states mail ballots have to be received by the close of polls, closing post offices can significantly burden some groups.  In Nevada, for example, about half of the 27 Indian tribes rely heavily on the post office to register and to vote, and the closure of a post office will effectively strip them of that right.

Closing post offices and delaying the delivery of mail places a significant burden on the most vulnerable of our citizens.

William C. Snodgrass, owner of a USave Pharmacy in North Platte, Nebraska, talked about the end-of-next-day, first-class delivery to local areas.  His store mails hundreds of prescriptions a week to residents in mostly rural areas of the state that lack local pharmacies.  If first-class delivery were lengthened to three days and Saturday mail service also were suspended, a resident might not get a shipment mailed on Wednesday until the following week.

“A lot of people in these communities are 65 or 70 years old, and transportation is an issue for them,” said Snodgrass. “It’s impossible for many of my customers to drive 100 miles, especially in the winter, to get the medications they need.”

via AlterNet.

Currently the U.S. Postal Service is being managed like Eastman Kodak Co. in its last days—selling off assets, cutting back services, letting its work force shrink by attrition and squeezing more work out of existing employees.   This isn’t a strategy for growth or even survival.  It is an effort to postpone the inevitable.   But the problem is not with the Postal Service’s managers or its hard-working clerks and letter carriers.  The problem is with the constraints put on the Postal Service by Congress.

Why the drive to shut down the Postal Service?   It employs more than 500,000 people, second only to Walmart in the United States.  But unlike Walmart, they are union workers who get decent wages and health insurance.  From the standpoint of a certain type of employer, this is a bad example that should not be allowed, lest it spread.

The other factor is that the Postal Service owns 32,000 post offices, many of them on prime real estate, along with 461 distribution centers and 213,000 vehicles.  If the Postal Service is shut down, private owners will have a chance to acquire these assets at a bargain price.  [Added 4/11/13.  And the $326 billion in the USPS pension fund also will go to—someone.]

Click on the following links for more.

Do We Really Want to Live Without the Post Office?

Why You Should Be Outraged By What Is Being Done to Our Postal Service

Why We Must Rescue the Postal Service From the Brink of Death

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4 Responses to “The last days of the U.S. Postal Service”

  1. informationforager Says:

    Thanks for the data. You did a very thorough job compiling the facts and conveying that information to us, the public. Not everybody knows these things and they are being misled about the Post Office problems.


  2. Jane Hickok Says:

    A friend in Florida recently sent $10 to her grandson in California as a birthday gift via UPS and it cost her over $14! (His parents for some reason don’t accept US mail-weird but true).


  3. Holden Says:

    The sticky part is, the USPS is mandated by the Constitution.


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