Is sending email unpatriotic?

The Postal Service is hemorrhaging money. Is there anything we can do? If so, should we bother?

By doubleace May 18, 2011 2:29PM

This post comes from Lynn Mucken at MSN Money.

 

My boss, a woman with intriguing -- and occasionally misguided -- ideas, sent me a one-line note: "Should we all be patriotic and start using mail again?"

 

The U.S. Postal Service is in financial trouble once more. It is anticipating operating losses of $8.3 billion for the fiscal year ending in September. It wants to default on an estimated $5.4 billion it is required to come up with this year to ensure that employee pensions are paid in the future. And it doesn't have the $6 billion it needs to replace an aging truck fleet. Post continues after video. 

No sweat, you say, just put it on the tab. Isn't that the way the government works? Not in this case, or at least, not exactly in this case. Although federal postal delivery was started in 1775, even before the Declaration of Independence, the Postal Service has existed only since 1971, when the Post Office Department was renamed and ordered to become a self-sufficient agency.

 

In other words, it is supposed to pay its own way. Which it pretty much did until its financial foundation, the first-class letter -- those 44-cent stamps add up -- was coldcocked by email and texting.

In response, the Postal Service has cut 6,700 jobs and trimmed 50 million work hours in the past year, closed post offices and frozen management salaries. Its biggest union just agreed to a two-year moratorium on wage hikes (followed by a 3.5% increase over the following 36 months) and a decrease in employer-paid benefits. It has launched a massive advertising campaign to fight UPS and FedEx for the package-delivery business.

 

Those are all things a struggling private company would do, but one is missing: cut service.

 

The Postal Service is mandated by law to provide door-to-door mail delivery six days a week. A proposal last year by the postmaster general to eliminate home delivery on Saturdays got a thumbs up from 71% of Americans, but businesses fought the idea and Congress has yet to move on it. Estimated savings: about $3 billion annually, not nearly enough ladder to get it out of an $8.3 billion-a-year hole.

 

We'll pause here for the wailing about lazy and overpaid postal employees. According to Payscale.com, the Postal Service's most visible worker, the mail carrier, makes between $43,000 and $55,000 a year. In the private sector, UPS drivers make between $39,000 and $67,000.

 

As for service, I find the clerks in post offices to be courteous and helpful. Yeah, there never seems to be enough of them at Christmas, but there's a line at the checkout counter at Macy's then, too.

 

Finally, back to my boss' question about reverting to hand-delivered mail in order to save this great American institution.

 

My wife and I have received maybe four letters in the past year, all of them from my 83-year-old mother-in-law. Then we call her because we can't read the handwriting. Cards -- birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Christmas? Maybe 20 and dropping fast. All the rest is advertising and business correspondence.

I got 21 emails yesterday -- only two of which I deleted without opening -- and four already today (it is about 8 a.m.). I have friends I exchange ideas with four times a week and others I hear from once a year. Not a one of them ever wrote me a letter before the Internet arrived.

 

As an act of patriotism, rescuing the Postal Service via hand-delivered mail is about as likely as stripping ourselves of all clothing that says "Made in Thailand" to save what's left of that American industry. It is not going to happen.

 

Another thing that is not going to happen is the prompt and thrifty dissolution of the Postal Service as we know it. There are just too many jobs -- the Postal Service has nearly 572,000 employees -- and a shrinking but still vocal group of holdouts who insist they do not need a computer.

 

For them, we will waste years and billions, maybe trillions, of dollars on a barely breathing product. What's patriotic about that?

 

More from MSN Money:

VIDEO ON MSN MONEY

19Comments
May 18, 2011 6:48PM
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The Post Office isn't bogged down by the employees; the largest problem and the reason why the USPS is hemorrhaging money is because of the overabundance of 'career management.'  These are the types that have been there like 35-40 years or more, don't really have a significant function, and are just there collecting a paycheck for showing up at top salary scale.  I too have been privy to the stories about 6 workers casing their routes and 7 or 8 members of management walking around not really accomplishing anything... these are the types of things that can kill a wounded firm, and it's the type of attitude we have in just about all government entities.  The USPS is just a microcosm of why every muni, state, and the fed is struggling, and they're all fat with high paid personnel, and pretty much for the same reason.

The solution (or road to recovery) is simple:  Jobs in government have to be cut, just like the private sector.  We're headed toward a massive unsustainable status in the country, with government supplying around 1/4 of all employment.  There's just too much weight in salary expense for the USPS to sustain itself, and all the increases they can muster will not be enough to overcome this losing battle.

Force out the 'overstaying' management/employees with a decent career package and a deadline.  After the deadline, if the paperwork isn't filed...start scaling down the retirement benefits...this will induce an exodus, and make it so that people on the fence about retiring finally get out.  Pare down the positions by attrition; just like the private sector, in all government, we don't need 5 or 6 people doing the same job.  I truly believe that once you see excess salary expenses taken off the table, the USPS (and hopefully other arms of government) will have money with which to dig themselves out of this heinous situation.

May 18, 2011 4:33PM
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The attempt to stretch email into an unpatriotic deed seems too far out of the box. But why not crank up the junk mail rates to where the USPS can break even?

 

I suspect it is because lobbyists have convinced Congress that the economy requires cheap bulk mail, to fill landfills and my mailbox. As a result, the USPS has a monopoly on an unprofitable market share. Well then, make it profitable!

 

Let the private sector respond to that challenge (my email app is ready, with the junk mail filter rarin' to go)

May 18, 2011 4:58PM
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This whole article is just ridiculous. Yes the USPS has a virtual monopoly on snail mail. The idea that using an alternative method of communication such as email or texting is somehow unpatriotic is lunacy. Did the invention of the telephone cause the USPS to wring its hands and cry foul? Was the idea of placing a phone call rather than sending a letter considered unpatriotic? The widespread use of cell phones today gave land line telephone companies grief. Some adapted to this technological change, others didn't. Perhaps the USPS is so set in its ways that it "cannot" change. Perhaps the flood of junk mail we all receive every day is their salvation - in most cases it is a cause for, at best, irritation to the recipients. Congress is so wrapped up in their own self-preservation that they don't have the motivation to kill the "golden goose" that funds their PAC treasuries. In other words, no one in Washington gives a damn or has the cajones to really do something constructive for a change!
May 18, 2011 4:07PM
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Why didn't the postal service ever jump on the email bandwagon? Perhaps providing a secure (and cheaper) pipeline for businesses with added storage space and what not. Tap the advertising revenue this could potentially generate.

 

Must like the rest of government run business... it's just run horribly.

 

On a side note, Id rather something like the postal service be funded with tax dollars than the plethora of crap the government currently wastes our money on. Here's to hope for change... knowing not a damn thing does.

May 18, 2011 6:04PM
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AsSeenInRealLife:

 

I saw a TV news special a few yrs ago about USPS vs UPS vs FedEx.  They shipped packages with accelerometers in them and it turned out the PO package was treated the gentlest.  UPS was the worst and FedEx came in the middle.

 

It may be that more packages are shipped via UPS these days, but I've received more damaged boxes from them than the PO.

May 18, 2011 4:19PM
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Typical MSN article with a catchy headline and idiotic story.
May 19, 2011 7:13AM
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Good article....I propose we cut it back to delivery of mail on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Perhaps get the guys that bring the newspapers to bring the mail as well..... BUT IMHO one of the true bargains today in our Society is the first class stamp. For 44 cents I can write a letter and mail it to anywhere in the Country with a reasonable expectation that it will get there in a timely manner, Can't buy a candy bar for that price....
May 18, 2011 4:03PM
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When I was a tot, I remember my mother mailing letters with a blue or green 7c Lincoln in the corner. (Before that it was a light pinkish purple 4c-er) By the time I got around to sending letters and cards, the cost had jumped to 12c. In rapid succession, the price went from 12 to 14c to 21c to 22c ... on and on. The big jumps came starting right after the USPS filed for independent control. (They weren't ordered to separate from the rest of government, they filed a legal action to be allowed to do so.)  Under the USPS watch, the cost of mailing a first class envelope quadrupled. They have continually had budgetary troubles right from the start. And each time the price of postage goes up, the number of pieces of mail they handle goes down. (Slow learners in the USPS have yet to figure out the cause and effect here apparently!)

 

So now I'm supposed to feel guilty because I pay my bills online, communicate with friends and family via e-mail or phone txt msg? I'm supposed to feel badly because I only send a few birthday cards through the mail? (And either through laziness or expedience or whatever, most folks are even steering away from that!) Once again I will whine about the fact that, "HEY! I have to budget my money. What makes them think they are exempt? As with most corporate situations, the guys at the top of the USPS hierarchy make plenty more than the rank and file. And, even too many carriers make more than the average Joe on the street. Whatever happened to cutting out Saturday deliveries to curb costs? And, obviously, if fewer people are using the mail service, there is less need for mail handlers. Even less need for mail sorters since machines do most of the work anyway.

 

Last Christmas my mother received a plastic baggie from the USPS with a tattered greeting card envelope in it and an apology from the post office. The very next day, I received a similar baggie but the content of my baggie was only the front of the envelope. No, neither bag contained the greeting card! This "accident" was the result of failure to maintain the equipment. It is not about dollars and budgets and cutbacks and more money. The mechanics are there already. This is simply sloppiness and mismanagement and, with that kind of service, it's no wonder they are going out of business! While I concede the Bush era economic collapse debacle and the woefully misguided Obama corporate prop-up which followed certainly contributed to the retirement fund slump, with over 4 million people out of work and having lost their retirement pensions, I have a hard time feeling too sorry for the postal service which made its own bed, lined with roses. and now find they must deal with the thorns.

 

 

May 18, 2011 4:39PM
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FedEx, UPS, DHL, etc aren't allowed to do first class mail (has to be priced way above what USPS does), so they rely on packages and overnight deliveries or guaranteed deliveries by certain days/times to make money.  However, USPS has been working deals with the carriers to use some of their air transport.

 

If the private companies were allowed to handle first class mail, USPS probably would have died out long ago.  Throwing good money after bad won't solve anything, just delay the inevitable (especially since private companies are being utilized to some degree already).  If someone can do a better job, then they should.  I like the Post Office, but I also liked Poloraid Cameras, Kick, Ford Escorts and the Wonder Years.

May 18, 2011 4:32PM
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SammyBoy, now that's an interesting idea.  Make the PO like your local Kinko's:  mail, email, fax, copy, package.

 

What the USPS really needs to do is make their parcel service better than FedEx and UPS.  With the explosion in online ordering, that's the future.

May 18, 2011 5:19PM
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Wordsmith, have you ever heard of this thing called inflation?

 

Here is the cost of a first-class postage stamp from 1866 to 2009.  On the right hand side is the price adjusted for inflation - you might be surprised:

 

(dubya dubya dubya dot) johnstonsarchive.net/postage.html

 

 

Aug 12, 2011 3:43PM
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With all the phishing scams I get and all the Hacking being done I will not have my financials nor my medical online. I pay by mail and send my Holiday cards and other special cards by mail. Also, Large business packages and gifts.

We need the post office even if we do send emails. Besides the dangers mentioned above we still need the human factor and etiquette.

May 19, 2011 12:38PM
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How many more of these articles are we going to see about the USPS? It is the same everytime and nothing has changed (there in lies the problem) and even though we all know what is going to happen, major financial shortfall, still in typical DC fashion nothing is being done or only until the collapse happens will they consider doing something. I agree with Ken. The concept of the article, unpatriotic to send email?, is ridiculous and anyone who thinks this is a dope (its called changing with the times and business 101 says if you don't keep up you won't survive, the USPS is no different). Congress is also a big problem here and no one wants to change. Furthermore our politicians are worried primarily about self preservation; do only what is needed to get re-elected. That and the fact that the majority in DC answer to Wall St first and the people second so don't expect them to have their priorities straight anyways or accomplish much of anything that has a real benefit to the American people alone without helping Wall St. At any rate the first thing that has to been done, in my opinion, is a reduction in service (well actually tell congress to f off first and let the USPS make more of its own decisions). Sat delivery needs to go, end of story. Next, as I've said before, I think a threshold system needs to be put in place that corresponds to delivery days. X number pieces of mail to X number means Mon - Wed, X number to X number means no Wed, X to X means M-W-F, and so on until you get down to one day a week. Keep in mind this is delivery only. The physical PO can stay open for business and internal operations (like transport of mail to other local PO's) can still go on and the carriers can work these other jobs in the off days. I'm confident a work schedule and system could be figured out that is fair to both sides, though this would result in further workforce reduction, unfortunately this needs to happen anyways. With a proper setup and realistic threshold sizing I think this could work and most likely the majority of people would get mail delivery 5 to 4 days a week, once this happens I doubt most people will see an inconvenience anyways. Doing this coupled with the next big issue, middle and upper management house cleaning, followed by further consolidation (which could help some areas move into higher delivery days if they accept closing a PO because that would push up the threshold number pieces of mail going thru the combined PO), using grocery stores and other retailers for PO locations or kiosks (daily pickup at these locations and mail drop boxes could likely still happen), and then adding other services as well as upgrading facilities and fleet in a timely manner to be more efficient from an operations stand point. Then ultimately maybe just raise the price to even $.50 for first class letter and leave it there for awhile. Benefits and pay for all also need to be looked at. If they do (ever) get to break even or get to a surplus let them, they can build up a fund that could account for x amount of yearly operating costs to help offset additional swings or drops to allow phase in of additional cost reduction measures, after that they can just freeze the rates until a set time that it balances out or drop some costs on other services beyond first class mail. I know there are some other things that could be done and this might not be completely perfect (someone will complain) but I feel is a reasonable solution and can allow the USPS to survive because lets face it, there is still a need for the PO, they just need to adjust their current model to better fit that need. It is time to make the changes and this is but one more thing we need to stand up and demand, as American citizens, be done; no more wasted tax dollars keeping the USPS on life support or lack of action to change this by our gov. We deserve better.
Aug 12, 2011 11:37PM
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Besides the fact you'll have 10 different companies delivering your bills and medicine & checks, some countries have warehouses full of mail waiting for anyone who wants to deliver mail !

Just what the country needs another 500,000 on unemployment. Why don't they just open soup kitchens for the rest of the country ,and let the rich sit back and keep their money & laugh at the rest of the Country!

PS How are the politicians doing on their 5 week vacation, they don't seem to be worrying about the problems at hand for the people they represent.!

Aug 12, 2011 8:45PM
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I don't have all the answers the public needs but I would like to say that no one understands  the trickle down effect that the USPS  has experienced.  When the price of gas goes up, other companies can adjust their prices. NOT the USPS. We rely on gas to deliver your important mail, such as  wedding, shower invites, special occasion cards, original documents, etc. It takes months or years just get a 2 or 4 cent increase on the stamp!  We deliver to the door,  medications that were probably ordered on line or by phone. We do offer services on the internet. Has anyone bothered to look us up? You can even print a stamp on line! We are trying to use the internet to our advantage. As a carrier, I have seen many cuts take place. Of course there are many more to come. Since 1971 we have taken care of all our financial needs on our own just  to stay in the black. The economy has taken a real toll on us. Let alone the  Anthrax threat. Feel lucky that the USPS just charges 44cents for a 1st class letter, that goes anywhere in the US. Other countries are much higher!
May 18, 2011 5:01PM
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HERE'S THEIR MANY PROBLEMS:

--the MANY increases almost annually that makes it increasingly difficult for people to afford sending anything (even a letter) especially in this economy.  If they would "lower" their prices or at least offer incentives, MAYBE more people would go to them instead of fedex or ups.

--Their handling of  packages is just ridiculous.  Many times I have actually SEEN them throw packages, drop or throw them in front of doors, without ANY regard for what might be inside or being labeled 'fragile'.  They just don't care.  AND, if your item is broken, then good luck getting reimbursed EASILY!  You have to jump through hoops and hand over the item (sometimes) and even then, they won't refund the postage.  Why should you have to still pay for the postage if 'they' are the ones that broke it?  Then what exactly are you even paying for as a 'service'??  U.P.S. is FAR better, they reimburse you NO QUESTIONS ASKED, it couldn't be more hassle free.  They may be slightly more, but I KNOW the package will almost always, consistently, get to the person in tact and I can track it with a signature.  I WISH the P.O. would do that.  They only tell you it's delivered.  If you want a signature or anything else, it's "nickel and diming you to death" time, you pay through the nose for it.  I've gotten a few packages stolen over the years, because they just left it in front of the door, that's NEVER happened with fedex or u.p.s. for me.

--a relative works for them and the stories they've told me over the years is unbelievable:  employees getting away with extreme laziness or not doing their job correctly, and then just getting 'transferred' instead of fired.  One employee sleeping with a manager and getting preferential treatment, until she was 'transferred'.  Any mail that is not 'priority or express mail' being unloaded from one truck to another from a height of up to 20 ft. with packages (some heavier than others) falling on more fragile packages.  Just OVERALL, not a very good work system, and a lot of carelessness!  And what sounds like MAJOR incompetence!

SURE, I would love to support the P.O., but do they deserve it?  Probably not based on their 'service record'.  They need to shape up and clean house first, and lower some of their freakishly high prices, before I would ever use them again.  I suspect we as consumers will get screwed again and have to bail them out as well!!  Better yet, take away the tax breaks for the oil companies and give it to the P.O....the P.O.needs it to survive,  but the oil companies only need it to get even more disgustingly wealthier than they already ARE.

May 18, 2011 9:15PM
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Let's just print more money and give them a bailout

May 18, 2011 7:23PM
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When I had a paper route in the late 50s in the cold midwest and had to spend Saturdays collecting I worked much harder than mail delivery people.  We can agree that these people are nothing more than well paid, or I should say much overpaid, paper boys.  I made maybe under 10 dollars per week for freezing my butt  off at 5 am every stinking day of the week.   The postal departments financial problems are a result of forgetting that these people are paper boys and ones who don't have to collect at that.  That is their problem. 
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