Saving the U. S. Postal Service is very much in the national interest, but it is going to mean sacrifices for its workforce and its customers.
No other delivery business provides the range of services customers get from the Post Office, which is available in the remotest parts of the nation.
But ever since the 2008 recession the Post Office has been hemorrhaging red ink at a recent rate of $5 billion a year with no relief from deficits in sight unless Congress grants its request for radical changes to its business model.
The main cause is the collapse of the first class mail business. Volume has fallen by 30 percent in the last decade thanks to the spread of email and competition from private delivery services. A recovery is not in the cards for that line of business.
The recent three-cent hike in first class postage rates, to 49 cents, scarcely staunches the flow of red ink. Even with a legislative rescue along the broad lines of House and Senate bills, it is likely to be followed by further increases in the next three years.
To reach financial security, the Post Office probably will have to begin pulling away from door-to-door mail slot delivery in favor of street-side mailboxes for some homes and, where possible, grouped mail boxes. It will probably have to phase out Saturday delivery. In the Senate proposal, that would happen by 2017.
The Post Office today has about 270,000 fewer employees than it did 15 years ago but still employs over 500,000 people. To survive it will have to make further cuts. Some reports suggest it may shed 100,000 jobs.
Naturally the postal workers unions are not happy with the bills before Congress that give management the flexibility to reduce employment. But if we want the Postal Service to survive, the cuts will have to come.
The main cause of recent deficits has been the inability of the Postal Service to make payments required by law into the fund that supports retirees' pensions and health care. The USPS has proposed a sensible alternative reflected in the pending Senate bill that would restructure its health care and retirement plans and rely on Medicare.
None of the proposed changes is particularly attractive. Not only unions but also many clients of the Postal Service will be unhappy with the changes. But there is no going back to the old model.
The choice is either change the Post Office or lose it.
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