A story is told of a man working in the city of London who routinely sent a letter to his mum in Kent to tell her what time he’d be home for supper each evening.
The Royal Mail in Great Britain was that frequent, and that reliable. Up until 1950, twice-a-day delivery was available in the United States, as well. Now it seems the only news from the U.S. Postal Service arriving that often is the announcement of another rate hike. (The latest proposal would increase the cost of a stamp to 46 cents next January.) The Postal Service seems to be perfecting an unusual trick: taking more time and money to deliver fewer pieces of mail.
If you are reading this editorial in print, for instance, you should have received it in on Friday, July 9, if you live in the New York region, and on Saturday if you live elsewhere in the country. But it could arrive next Monday. Or Tuesday. Or, in California, the following week.
This has nothing to do with the actual printing of the newspaper, which is completed each Wednesday night. It has everything to do with the way the Forward is delivered.
Of course, if you are reading this editorial online, the issue is irrelevant.
Which is one reason mail volume has fallen so sharply, as the massive shift to the Internet has made paying bills, sending handwritten notes, and delivering news through the post sound as quaint as the fellow with the mum in Kent. As a result, the Postal Service has, by its own accounting, shown a cumulative loss of $12 billion over the past three fiscal years.
To address this mounting deficit, the Postal Service says it must cut Saturday delivery, which it contends will save $3 billion a year (though others say the real savings would be closer to $2 billion annually). Congressional hearings on the service changes begin on July 12.
From the perspective of those of us at the Forward eager for loyal print subscribers to receive our content as soon as possible, eliminating Saturday delivery would make a bad situation much, much worse. But so would the massive rate hikes that the Postal Service is threatening if six-day-a-week service is maintained.
This doesn’t have to be an either-or choice. The Postal Service is in the fix it’s in partly because Congress mandated that it fund the health benefits of its retirees in advance, a practice that is not required of any other federal agency or used in private industry. The requirement costs about $5.5 billion a year. Why can’t it be changed?
Before going down the slippery slope of reduced delivery, Congress needs to help the Postal Service manage its resources more efficiently. There is still no substitute for the printed word.