The United States Postal Service announced yesterday that Saturday mail delivery will cease to exist starting in August, all in an effort to save $2 billion. Seemed like the next logical step by an agency that has been bleeding cash for years now. And clearly I knew that the move would prove unpopular to some (as with any change to anything that people are used to). Younger Americans, used to e-mail and online bill pay will hardly notice this change, while older Americans are used to the regularity of 6-day service and lamented the disappearance of blue mail collection boxes and the increasing price of stamps.
So I was a little surprised when I read today’s article in the Boston Globe at the extremely visceral reaction by some. US Representative William R. Keating blasted the plan, saying it leaves rural areas in the lurch. And with mail carrier jobs potentially at stake, the National Rural Letter Carriers Association called the plan “reprehensible and irresponsible” and said “rural families’ livelihoods often depend on efficient six-day-per-week mail delivery.”
Now, here’s the thing. USPS has been losing money steadily for years now, to the tune of $16 billion last year alone. As with everything else in this world (gasoline, college tuition, groceries, etc), prices are going to go up. That includes the cost of a stamp (sorry South End retiree G. Elizabeth Ford) as well as the cost of running the USPS. When you’re $16 billion in the hole, you have to figure out a way to reduce your costs, or the price of that stamp is going to go up even more. [Sidenote: in fairness, the financial woes of the USPS are largely due to Congress which requires that the USPS pay into future retiree health benefits - a rule that applies to NO other federal agency. And before you all start clamoring that our taxpayer money shouldn't go to another behemoth federal agency hemorrhaging cash - I'll remind you that the USPS receives zero funding from Congress, even though Congress controls every other move that the USPS is allowed to make. Excluding payments made to pensions, the USPS lost $2.4 billion in the last fiscal year]
But given the inability to change the rules without Congressional approval (and we all know how hard it is to get Congress to do anything these days), the USPS made a calculate business decision. The USPS didnt arbitarily decide to eliminate Saturday service – they realized that they were losing money on first-class mail (largely letters) and Saturday was their slowest mail day. In a move that should be applauded, the USPS recognized the changing times and made a decision. (Btw, they will still continue to be open on Saturdays and deliver packages as well)
Do I feel a little sad that the USPS is canceling Saturday service? Absolutely – in my mind, the USPS is an institution and an enduring symbol of this country. I feel the same way about ending Saturday service that I felt about Kodak going bankrupt. But that’s just it, the USPS is trying to stave off bankruptcy, and unlike Kodak is recognizing the writing on the wall. In truth, this move may not be enough without some Congressional action, but the USPS is trying to remain an enduring symbol of the USA.
But seriously, the claim that “rural families’ livelihoods often depend on efficient six-day-per-week mail delivery” seems a little ridiculous to me. It’s one day. People will learn to adjust and compensate. Times change… it’s time that the USPS do the same.