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    Who Our New Austerity-Driven Postal Service Hurts Most

    Written by

    Adam Clark Estes

    Bad news, delivery enthusiasts: The United States Postal Service is going to stop delivering first-class mail on Saturdays. That means no letters, no cards, no magazines, no catalogs, no bills — the list goes on — will show up at your house during the weekend. Your first thought might be, "No bills on Saturday? Yay!" But do you remember that time you were expecting a check from your freelance gig at that second tier fashion magazine on a Friday so that your landlord wouldn't evict you on Saturday? Well, good luck making ends meet next time, sucker.

    It's not a totally grave situation. The postman will still deliver packages, Express, and Priority mail on Saturdays. But cuts in services mean cuts in staff. On Wednesday morning, the Postmaster General announced that limiting Saturday service would amount to 22,000 lost jobs, though he hopes that attrition and eliminating overtime will keep them from actually having to lay anybody off. Of course, that hasn't always been true for the struggling Postal Service. In recent years, it's cut down on hours of operation at about half of the nation's 26,000 post offices and laid off some 35 percent of its workforce.

    This latest austerity measure will help, but it won't even come close to pulling the Postal Service out of the red. The cuts in weekend service will save an estimated $2 billion a year, a drop in the bucket compared to the $16 billion the USPS lost last year and the $41 billion it's lost over the course of the past six years. Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, put it bluntly when praising the Postal Service's move. "Look, they're in survival mode. You're not going to have any post office," he said. "I mean, here's the alternative: They're losing $25 million dollars a day. A day. They have to do something."

    No matter what the Postal Service does, there will be blood. Whether it's USPS staff that's hurt or it's everyday mail-loving Americans, the business is so far gone that it would take a miracle to bring its balance sheets back to black. Cutting Saturday service is just the beginning of the Postal Service's austerity measures, and some people are going to feel the blow harder than others. Back when the Postmaster was just batting around the idea of cutting Saturday service, Washington Post columnist Frederic Rolando warned that such a move would "hurt Americans and prove highly counterproductive to achieving financial stability." Rolando went on to make a brief but powerful case for keeping Saturday service:

    Reducing service by 17 percent to save 3 percent of costs is an irrational business formula. Furthermore, the cutback would disproportionately affect the elderly and rural communities — which include people who require medicines on weekends — as well as small businesses that need to send and receive financial documents.

    Dropping Saturday delivery would drive customers away and decrease revenue. It would also impair the agency’s ability to capitalize on the expanding e-commerce market — a key to its future — because the best day to deliver packages is when people are home: Saturday.

    Those are all really good points. USPS was smart to continue to deliver packages on Saturdays, but it's still a halfway solution that makes service worse and doesn't cut costs too much. Plus, first class mail is still important. If you thought waiting until Monday for your $300 check from Nylon was inconvenient, imagine being a 74-year-old with diabetes and a broken hip who's run out of insulin. Or a superhero supply shop with a vicious landlord and overdue rent. If the check from last week's bulk order of cloning fluid doesn't arrive on Friday, waiting until Monday might mean eviction.

    For the many rural communities in the US, which have disproportionately lower rates of internet access, USPS remains an important commerce and communication tool. Limiting service hits those customers harder than others, and this wave of cuts only presages the future shuttering of rural mail outposts, which aren't lucrative but are crucial to keep American citizens connected to the country.

    Then you have the workers. The U.S. Postal Service has won praise for promoting diversity in its workforce, including hiring veterans, which is awesome. To be specific, 21 percent of USPS workers are African-American, 8 percent are either Hispanic or Asian, and 22 percent are veterans. That means that layoffs would primarily affect an already-disenfranchised population of workers, sending them out into a world where the unemployment rate is over twice the national average. Nearly a third of those veterans are disabled, too, a detail that doesn't make finding another job very easy.

    Slimming down Saturday services didn't sound so bad at first, did it? But now that we've got a dying diabetic, a struggling superhero store, and thousands of unemployed disabled veterans on our hands, things are starting to look a little bit grimmer. It's easy to brush off the Postal Service for being less important than it used to be, like this Harvard-educated business blogger did recently. It's harder but more honest, however, to try to understand how important these services are to some Americans.

    Image via Flickr