Amid a crisis isolating Americans like nothing else has in a century, the service tying every corner of this nation together since its founding is foundering.
There always have been critics of the U.S. Postal Service but now it has enemies led by President Donald Trump, and Trump’s untrue claims about his own archnemesis, Amazon and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, are undermining its support and its future.
The USPS has battled for 25 years with a decline in demand for its core services. First-class mail volume peaked in 1996 at 103 billion pieces annually and declined to 55 billion in 2019, thanks largely to the advent of internet communication and bill-paying. Volume has dropped another 30% since the coronavirus struck, and the shutdown has depressed the third-class “junk” mail that has been a strong product for the postal service in recent decades.
According to the Government Accountability Office, the postal service, meant to be financially self-sufficient, has lost $69 billion in 11 years. That’s a disastrous number, but one that does not tell the whole story.
The postal service has tried to change to control expenses, then was ordered to reverse course. A decision to stop Saturday mail delivery in 2013 was rejected by Congress. Attempts to close any of the more than 30,000 post offices in the nation, which by contrast hosts only about 14,000 McDonald’s, are defeated by local politicians and angry residents. Initiatives to provide new services like low-cost banking go nowhere. And a rule unique to the postal service demands it prepay the retiree health benefits of its 600,000 employees.
These struggles feed a call for privatization among Republicans who have Trump’s ear, and he has added his grudges to the mix. But Trump’s claims that Amazon is taking advantage of the service financially have been disproven by a task force he appointed to look into it in 2018. Amazon pays the package delivery rate the postal service agreed to, and USPS makes money on the deal. And Trump’s appointees control the panel that oversees pricing.
Friday, Trump said, “The Post Office, if they raised the price of a package by approximately four times, it would be a whole new ball game.” It would be, because no major corporation would use the USPS for package delivery anymore, and the agency would plummet further into the red.
And privatization is a terrible idea that would lead to traditional service on profitable mail routes and little or no service on difficult ones. The nation needs a postal service that serves every corner of the nation, to deliver information and prescription medicine and correspondence and legal papers and ballots.
It may need fewer locations. It may need to deliver fewer days each week. It may need to offer new services. And it may need to hire fewer workers, and not guarantee lifetime health care.
But the public postal service must survive, serving the needs of all Americans and not the pockets of a few investors and the politics of the president.
— The editorial board