Let us now praise the United States Postal Service.Posted: November 28, 2012
Yesterday I spent my lunch hour mailing holiday packages to my peeps in Kentucky. I set out to the nearby town of Garrison, MN, population 210 and the self-proclaimed Walleye Capital Of The World. As I put on my jacket, my co-worker Laurie asked if I could also mail something for her, a birthday card for her granddaughter in Hawaii. Sure, I said, put it on top of my stack.
In Garrison the postmaster took custody of my packages and the birthday card. I recited my standard post office joke to her: I didn’t want her to put on too much postage, otherwise the packages might just GO TOO FAR. She rolled her eyes, but laughed. (I did restrain myself from singing a line from that 1960s’ song: “De-liv-er the lett-ah, the soon-er the bett-ah…”)
The United States Postal Service is in financial trouble. Nowadays people rely more on digital communication, and fewer letters are being mailed. Many in Congress have suggested rate hikes, closing post office locations, eliminating deliveries on some days, and even privatizing the USPS in favor of companies like FedEx and UPS.
This is ridiculous. USPS provides this country’s best value for the money. When another service can move a little girl’s birthday card from a town of 210 people all the way to Hawaii within a couple of days for just 46 cents, I’ll consider otherwise.
How did this come about? In 2006 a lame-duck Congress gave USPS ten years to set aside enough money to pay almost all retiree health benefits for the next 75 years. No other public agency or private company is required to do that. Since 2007 this requirement has cost USPS almost $31 billion and accounted for more than 85% of its red ink.
Without that burden USPS would run a surplus. If Congress hadn’t saddled them with this requirement, there’d be no talk of financial problems. Congress put this unfair burden on USPS, and Congress can remove it.
USPS is cheaper, more reliable, and more efficient than FedEx or UPS. In fact, both FedEx and UPS recognize that. They pay USPS to deliver more than 400 million ground packages every year in residential areas and on Saturdays, specifically in rural areas like Garrison that neither company can afford to serve directly. In turn, USPS contracts with both companies for air transportation.
If USPS were to go under, you can bet that the 210 residents of The Walleye Capital Of The World won’t see a FedEx or UPS franchise in town anytime soon.
On top of that, FedEx and UPS can change their rates on a whim while USPS needs permission from Congress to do so. Remind me again, just how is it they’re supposed to dig themselves out of the hole Congress put them in? My default suggestion, which the local post office staff is tired of hearing, is that they should start printing advertising on postage stamps. The collectors’ market alone will keep them in the black forever. You’re welcome.
A 2012 study by Oxford Strategic Consulting surveyed the postal services of the twenty most advanced countries, and determined that USPS is the most efficient mail delivery business in the world. Ten years ago it took 70 employees one hour to sort 35,000 letters. Today, in that same hour, two employees process the same volume of mail. While the number of addresses in the nation grew by nearly 18 million in the past decade, the number of postal employees decreased by more than 200,000.
Consider also that this happens without a nickel of taxpayer money, and it’s even more impressive. The USPS is required by the Constitution to serve everyone, no matter where they live, and is an independent agency of the executive branch. A small appropriation from Congress reimburses USPS for free mail for the blind and absentee-ballot mailing for overseas military. Otherwise, it hasn’t received taxpayer funds since 1982.
USPS employs more than 574,000 workers and operates more than 218,000 vehicles. It’s the second-largest employer in the United States after Wal-Mart, and the operator of the largest vehicle fleet in the world. Are there really Americans out there who are too damn stupid to realize the impact on their lives if the second-largest employer in the US goes out of business?
USPS is the most popular part of government. Except for dogs, just about everybody likes to see the postman. Many seniors and shut-ins look forward all day to the letter carrier’s arrival. Pew Research determined that USPS has a favorability rating of 83%, easily the highest among government agencies. And the Ponemon Institute recently ranked USPS as the most trusted Federal agency for the sixth consecutive year.
Plus, USPS is reliable. According to the Federal Trade Commission, as little as two percent of identity crimes occur through the mail. Theft of a wallet or purse is responsible for five percent, meaning your documents are safer in the mail then they are in your pocket.
To sum up: a unionized Federal workforce, whose productivity is at an all-time high, is among the world’s best examples of a real, modern, and affordable business. Imagine that. It must annoy the daylights out of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and Michigan governor Rick Snyder.
So when you go to the post office this holiday season, and when you encounter your letter carrier, give them a big hello and thanks for their amazing service. You can even use my postage joke if you want. But don’t sing.