Post office more than profit, lossIf small-town and rural post offices are viewed only through the prism of a business model, then nearly all of them should be shuttered. But when seen in a broader context — as community hubs and hearts — nearly all of them should remain open.
By: The Forum, The Jamestown Sun
If small-town and rural post offices are viewed only through the prism of a business model, then nearly all of them should be shuttered. But when seen in a broader context — as community hubs and hearts — nearly all of them should remain open.
It is that latter context that is either missing or undervalued in the U.S. Postal Service’s stubborn determination to close down hundreds of post offices, many of them in rural Minnesota and North Dakota. In the Fargo-Moorhead area of the Red River Valley, at least 20 might be on the USPS hit list.
The Postal Service (service?) has been operating as a hybrid public/private creation of Congress for a long time now. By most measures, it’s a failure. It’s been losing money for decades, despite service cutbacks, post office closures, work force cuts and slick promotions to attract more customers. USPS officials say the mail world has changed, in particular the loss of first-class mail revenues because of the Internet. The agency lost $8 billion last year.
But that deep systemic problem will not be solved by closing rural post offices. One study suggests closing the approximately 3,650 offices on the agency’s list would have no significant lasting effect on the Postal Service’s bottom line. As if to underscore that conclusion, the agency reduced the number of offices from 38,000 a decade ago to 31,871 today. And still, losses in 2010 were $8 billion, and growing.
As long as the nation’s mail service — and that’s what it was supposed to be when Benjamin Franklin was named the first postmaster — is expected to operate like a business, it will be a loser. As long as Americans expect the mail in all its forms to be delivered to every corner of the nation, the Postal Service cannot routinely turn a profit under its flawed business model. After all, there is a reason why private mail and package companies are successful: They cherry-pick profitable services. The Postal Service does not have that option.
Finally, the value of a small-town post office cannot — and should not — be determined only by mail volume and revenue. A post office is central to a town’s identity, no matter how small the town. It’s a connection for commerce, family and community. Those vital American values defy measurement on a profit-and-loss statement. By closing or threatening to close hundreds of small post offices, the Postal Service is flirting with no less than a cultural crime.