Do We Still Need the Postal Service?
The US Postal Service has announced that it is laying off 120,000 workers and making sweeping changes to the benefits of thousands of others. These measures are on top of a proposal to close some 3,700 post offices throughout the US. To stay afloat, Congress must pass some controversial measures, says CNN, or the USPS is due to go bankrupt on September 30:
- Voiding union contracts to lay off postal workers with more than six years of service.
- Moving employees out of federal health and retirement plans.
- Ending Saturday service.
- Raiding pension surpluses to make a mandated payment on retirement benefit fund.
The USPS’s finances are, to understate the matter, in dire straits. Declines in first-class mail volume and increases in costs for wages and benefits have contributed to a loss of $2.2 billion last quarter. All told, the USPS’s deficit is projected to be $9 billion this year. 220,000 positions need to be eliminated by 2015 but only 100,000 can be cut through attrition, hence the need to lay of 120,000.
It’s saddening to think of post offices closing, especially those in rural communities where they’ve been lifelines to the rest of the world. In my own New Jersey neighborhood, a recent reshuffling of postal workers’ routes — a change no doubt related to imminent staff cutbacks — has meant that our mail is no longer delivered by the letter carrier we’ve long been on a first-name basis with. The whole neighborhood feels different without the sight of his lanky form walking up and down the sidewalk and his offhand “how you doin’?”
But then, less and less of our mail is anything but junk mail, computer-generated appeals from charities in Alaska, offers to refinance our mortgage, catalogs we didn’t ask for. It’s always exciting to get the boxes of cookies and coffee my mom sends from California and the hand-written notes from my aunt from her endless supply of stationery. More and more, we’ve switched to electronic bills which is, after all, better for the environment and cheaper for companies to process. Plus, I’m more likely to see the statements in my email inbox than the paper envelope that gets tossed on the kitchen table and buried under the flyers my son’s school sends home. Like many, we stay in touch with family and friends via email, Facebook, Twitter, blogs. We used to send out photo Christmas cards, but I post photos regularly on my blog (plus, we’re one of those families who used to take so long to write the holiday newsletter, it never was sent out till after the New Year).
Is it possible that mail is simply, as Josh Marshall asks on Talking Points Memo, dead? That the USPS is obsolete like typewriters and rotary phones, the victim of a massive cultural change created by the growth of the personal computer and the smart phone? That, as Ezra Klein wrote over a year ago on the Washington Post while suggesting that mail delivery could even be reduced eventually to Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the USPS is simply a “dying industry” in no small part because of our society’s preference for instant communication that doesn’t require finding a stamp somewhere in a desk drawer?
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