Your June 22 op-ed on the value of the mail and the U.S. Postal Service (Do Your Patriotic Duty – Write a Letter) captured the Postal Service’s value and its importance to small towns and rural areas.
Unfortunately, the second paragraph included misleading conventional wisdom about postal financial problems: “It's no secret that electronic communication has all but killed off the U.S. mail, and one by one services are being dropped, hours shortened, as the town gathering place that was once the post office has now been relegated to the days of washboards and crank phones.”
Were this the case – that the Internet’s growth requires cuts in service – then Montgomery County residents could only shrug, since technological progress isn’t going away. Shrug, and accept as necessary the slowing of the mail or the proposed ending of Saturday delivery. Even if they like the Postal Service, as more than 80 percent of Americans do, they’d just have to accept degraded services.
Fortunately, that’s not the case. Here are the facts.
Postal operations are profitable, and increasingly so. The Postal Service reported $1.4 billion in operating profits in Fiscal Year 2014, a figure already surpassed in fiscal 2015’s first half. Indeed, 2015’s first quarter alone yielded $1.1 billion in operating profits.
The worst recession since the Great Depression led mail to fall 10 percent in 2009 alone. But as the economy has gradually improved, mail revenue has stabilized. Meanwhile, with online shopping growing because of the Internet, package revenue is skyrocketing, auguring well for the future.
There is red ink, but it’s got nothing to do with the mail, postal operations or the Internet. Postal red ink stems from something quite different – Washington politics.
In 2006, a lame-duck Congress mandated that the Postal Service pre-fund future retiree health benefits. No other agency or company has to pre-fund for even one year; the Postal Service must pre-fund 75 years into the future and pay for it all over a decade. That $5.6 billion annual charge is the red ink.
Yet, some in Washington want you to believe that the services you long have relied on are the problem. They want to eliminate Saturday mail delivery, which would prevent small businesses from receiving checks and orders on weekends and create hardships for seniors, veterans and others. They would end door-to-door delivery, compelling residents to traipse daily around neighborhoods in Illinois weather seeking cluster boxes.
Unnecessarily degrading service also would weaken postal finances by driving mail away – while ignoring the cause of the red ink. And Illinois would lose jobs. The national mailing industry, dependent on a robust, six-days-a-week Postal Service, employs 7.5 million Americans in the private sector – including 380,439 in Illinois.
Illinoisans should urge their congressional representatives to preserve the now-profitable postal networks while addressing the pre-funding fiasco. Then the Postal Service - based in the Constitution and the nation’s largest employer of military veterans - can continue to offer Americans the world's most-affordable delivery network.
President of the National Association
of Letter Carriers, Washington D.C.