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The End of Mail as We Know It

24 May

In today’s Web Wednesday posting for our library’s website I presented the piece below. However, the posting here has a little bit extra!

In an article posted today on The Charlotte Observer’s website the headline reveals that the US Postal Service is “headed for financial ruin.” It should come as no surprise that this is yet another victim of the US economic situation. However, as a very government-regulated entity saving itself is no easy task. According to the Postmaster General, the USPS “should eliminate Saturday delivery, close thousands of local post offices, restructure its health plan and lay off 120,000 workers to survive.” Failure to restructure the USPS would be catastrophic. Unable to pay its bills and likely to be very dangerously in the red (over $10 billion), the centuries-old institution is but the latest casualty of not only the economic times but also of the changes in technology and today’s way of life.

“The rise of email has dramatically curbed demand for old-fashioned letters, while competitive delivery companies have squeezed the post office’s business model.” The postal service is an extension of the government and so any major changes including “changes to the frequency of service or delivery areas require federal legislation.” As reported by the Associated Press, Capitol Hill may be apprehensive in making any drastic changes to the USPS as it “supports a $1.1 trillion mailing industry employing more than 8 million people in direct mail, periodicals, catalogs, financial services and other businesses.” Liken it to the need to save the auto industry or anything deemed too big to fail, the fallout from cuts would be far-reaching. However, how does one fix something that’s clearly broken and not cause more pain and devastation? Unfortunately that doesn’t seem possible.

The fact is times are changing and the use of the Internet and other traditional postal alternatives have marked the definite need for the USPS to sink or swim. What happens when the Internet forces more industries into the same position as the USPS. We’re seeing massive changes to our life and cultural landscape and while difficult now is the time for us to remain optimistic that growing pains will give way to a better tomorrow. Life and the way we live it has to change. Think about even the phasing out of typewriters. When I was in middle school we had a computer lab as well as a keyboarding lab that had electronic typewriters. The industry had to change as consumer needs changed. Now, the typewriter is considered to be obsolete. Where did all the individuals and suppliers go once the times changed? I can only hope that they were proactive enough to see the changes coming and do what was necessary to remain relevant.

I agree that there are times when the government needs to assist industries. However, government should not be a hinderance as in the case with the USPS in their unwillingness to make changes along the way. If you see a sinking ship do you merely ignore it and hope that somehow the drowning people will all learn how to swim to shore? Of course not. Just because you’ve always done something one way it certainly doesn’t mean that it has to remain that way. While the unions may have just negotiated contracts it’s clear that everyone is going to have to give in order to have the organization survive. If there is no money, there is no money. Painful and unpopular decisions have to be made as the alternative is in having the entire postal service implode. Yes, there will be an impact if jobs are lost and if there is one less delivery day but what’s more important, the survival of the USPS or applying a band-aid to a system that is going to fail?

I know that I sit here with my full-time job and full benefits and act as though I’m on a soapbox, not knowing what it’s really like to hurt in the way that many Americans do. However, I’d like to believe that we can recover. I too have reason to be concerned if I am going to have a job next year but even if I don’t I’d like to believe that America is resilient and is and will continue to be the land of opportunity.

Read more about the blight of the USPS here.

Web Exclusive, 9/7/11. Article appeared on page 5A of The Union-Recorder on 5/23/12.

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