The USPS: Better than the three second birthday card

Oct. 3, 2011

The Scribe Staff
scribe.eic@gmail.com

Our postal service traces its roots back to 1775, when Benjamin Franklin, a founding father, was appointed the first postmaster general. Since then, it’s been a critical part of this country.

Before the widespread use of emails, telephones, or even telegrams, the most reliable and cost-effective way to send a message across the country was through the USPS.

Today, we carry small computers in our pockets that can access e-mail, check Facebook, update Twitter and occasionally even make phone calls.

Our utility bills and checking account statements come into the inbox on our computers instead of that inbox on the curb labeled “US MAIL ONLY” – the one that sometimes seems to only get stuffed with catalogs we never read and coupons we never cut.

We send love letters, invitations and birthday cards online because it’s faster, it’s easier and it gets to your recipient quite literally at the speed of light.

Considering all these marvelous advances we’ve made in communication technologies, it’s kind of a wonder that we still rely on the postal service as much as we do.

But, although it may be more practical to use email instead of “snail mail,” we find more comfort and humanity in the simple act of sending a handwritten letter.

When was the last time you did that? We can’t speak for all of our readers, but we’re guessing that most of you can’t even remember; most of us certainly can’t.

There is something to be said for the amount of time and effort that goes into a personalized birthday card rather than being one of the 50,000 people who takes three seconds to type “OMG HAPPY BIRTHDAY” on someone’s Facebook wall.

Sometimes, we need to be reminded that we’re communicating with actual human beings, not word machines or word processors.

We still don’t live in a completely paperless society – and as long as paper isn’t dead, neither should our mail system be. The fact of the matter is, our First Class letter delivery system is damned cheap.

There are usually a lot of complaints in the air whenever the postal service raises the rates on postage stamps – it’s currently at 44 cents, in case you were wondering – but in actuality, First Class postage rates have been rising more slowly than the average rate of inflation; when you look at it from that perspective, it’s cheaper now to send a letter than it was back in 1940.

And that same 44 cents gets your letter from your house to your next-door neighbor’s, or to your friend on the other side of the city, or to your relatives three or four time zones away.

Last year, the USPS delivered 171 billion pieces of mail – that’s roughly 550 pieces of mail each year for every man, woman, child and baby in the United States alone.

USPS handles a whopping 40 percent of the entire Planet Earth’s card and letter mail volume.

As of last year, it employed 574,000 career employees, making it the second-largest civilian employer in the United States, second only to Wal-Mart.

If USPS has to shut down because of a $75 billion accounting oversight, we’ll be forcing over half a million dedicated workers to become immediately unemployed, and we’ll be losing out on a service we rely on more than we probably tend to realize.

Maybe someday in the not-too-distant future, letters will become an antiquated, obtuse thing of the past – like telegrams. But until then, we still have a lot of mail that needs to keep flowing in order for our economy to survive.

Our postal service isn’t close to shutting down simply because mail is suddenly irrelevant; USPS is going broke trying to pay $5.5 billion each year into a fund for future retirees.

Let’s fix the problems the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act has caused and get our postal service back on track.

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