Fewer and fewer of us are sticking a stamp on an envelope and popping it into the big blue mailbox. Did you send a birthday email this month or pay a bill on line? I know I did—and thereby contributed to trends that led to the decision this month by the United States Postal Service to stop Saturday mail pick up and delivery beginning on Aug. 10, 2013.
Change is often difficult, and this change will have ripples throughout our personal and business lives. It’s a decision that will affect the current Saturday delivery of this newspaper and others. Grocery store and other retail ad inserts that normally arrive by mail on Saturday will also need to be rescheduled to Friday or Monday.
On the up-side, most post offices will retain their Saturday window hours, and mail will be delivered on Saturday to boxes in the post office. Also good news: Prescriptions and other packages shipped through the USPS will arrive at your doorstep on Saturdays.
The continued package deliveries and the Saturday mail service reductions both result from cultural upheavals involving changes in the country’s mailing habits, like burgeoning email use and on-line retail orders. While USPS mail volume has decreased by 11.5 percent since 2010, package delivery has increased by 14 percent. The bottom line, however, was a loss to the Postal Service of $15.9 billion in 2012 alone.
The elimination of Saturday mail delivery is just one strategy the Postal Service is enacting to deal with its financial problems, according to Pete Nowacki, a spokesperson for the USPS out of Minneapolis. Another is to lengthen the route taken by mail from the time it leaves your hand until it reaches its destination.
Mail that once went from Ely to Duluth to be sorted and distributed will soon travel to Duluth, then to Minneapolis to be sorted, and finally on to its recipient. That route could be instituted as early as July of this year, but possibly in 2014. My payments by check to local utilities and businesses are going to be enjoying the scenic route, and I’d best send them a day or two earlier to meet the payment deadlines. This strategy gives renewed meaning to the phrase, “snail mail.”
We hope that the 12 employees at the Ely Post Office won’t be affected, but nationwide the Postal Service expects to reduce its workforce by 22,000 jobs this year. It plans to cut 45 million work hours, mostly as employees retire or change jobs, and by reducing part-time hours. Since 2006, it has already cut 28 percent of its workforce, mostly through attrition.
According to Postmaster General Patrick Donahue, the USPS has already downsized by reducing hours in 9,000-plus post offices and eliminating 21,000 delivery routes. Ending Saturday delivery will improve the bottom line by an estimated $2 billion.
It probably didn’t occur to us when we bought fewer postage stamps that the USPS was slowly losing its revenue source. Most folks erroneously believe the service is funded by tax dollars, but it was our purchase of the Love stamps, the 45-cent Mail-A-Smile Disney characters and 32-cent postcard stamps that were keeping the doors open. Ooops, on Jan. 27 those rates went up to 46 cents for a first class letter and 33 cents for a postcard. I always buy the “Forever” stamps and don’t often have to think about the latest increases. But they do keep coming.
The postage rate hikes and the reduction in services are the unintended consequences of our use of email and on-line services. In the cities on April 15, one once saw lines of taxpayers stretching out of post office doors and down the block as people came late to get their federal tax payment envelopes date-stamped before midnight.
Instead, this year, many will pay their taxes on line and stay home on April 15. And soon we’ll be staying home—or at least not going to the mail box—on Saturdays as well.