Now that the United States Postal Service has let us know of plans to close more than one in 10 retail outlets in America, we can go ahead and start writing a sad, long obituary for the post office.
No matter what anybody says, it's going away, and probably quicker than most people realize.
Already the USPS has been in the process of eliminating Saturday mail delivery. Now, by closing more than 3,700 local retail outlets across the country once a plan in consideration now is formally approved, the post office will be fully engaged in fatal decline.
A stamp costing just 44 cents to mail a letter first class that gets there most every time, in a few days or less, is still one of the best deals one can find in America. Also, USPS service is among the most reliable of any quasi-government organizations in this land.
Yet nobody needs the post office like they used to.
Chalk this one up to another unfortunate fatality of 21st century progress, but go ahead and face the fact: The USPS as we have known it for so many years is about to go away, once and for all.
Currently the post office has 31,000 outlets, including local offices, branches and stations. That's down from 38,000 a decade ago. In recent years, however, as first-class mail has moved to the Internet due to online bill pay and other advancements, and as mail advertising has moved to the Internet, the post office has seen a rapid decline in its business.
Last year the post office lost $8 billion.
The cuts currently being debated are the beginning of the end, and they will start in rural areas where more locations don't have the required business volume for sustainability. The USPS released a list of 3,700 retail locations up for review in closing consideration. Coming under review does not mean a retail outlet will close for certain, but once an office is selected for review, citizens served by that office have 60 days to file comments.
"Our customer's habits have made it clear that they no longer require a physical post office to conduct most of their postal business," said Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe. "The Postal Service of the future will be smaller, leaner and more competitive and it will continue to drive commerce, serve communities and deliver value."
Donahoe suggests communities losing post offices might get smaller, authorized stations, or licensed local vendors to provide traditional postal services. In other words, the post office is increasingly privatizing its business, brokering out services of its retail centers. That strategy has been under way for years now, successfully in many locations. Now, it is the path the post office takes to serving communities with physical locations.
But it's clear that closing retail outlets is not enough to save the post office. Nobody needs mail service like they used to, in spite of its value and reliability. That's why the post office has been sharply reducing its staff in recent years. That's why the post office wants approval from Congress to eliminate Saturday home mail delivery. And, that's why the post office wants relief from a requirement to make an annual $5.5 billion payment to fund future retiree health benefits.
They'll argue the post office has a future, that it's all about successful evolution. But nobody foresaw how quickly America's reliance upon mail delivery would evaporate. Even when mail was a necessity, the post office had trouble making money. These days, it's a virtual impossibility.
It's sad to see it go, since the post office has been an integral part of many American communities over the years. The meeting place. The place of undeterred reliability. The backbone. But it's happening, whether we want to face that reality or not.
For many years, neither rain, nor snow nor sleet has interrupted the post office. But all along, it wasn't the weather we should have been worried about.
It was the Internet.