The U.S. Postal Service’s handling of letters and other correspondence is ridiculed as snail mail compared to the cyberspeed and nearly instant gratification of online messaging, providing another example of an institution Americans take for granted and what citizens of other nations would be more than happy to have.
A British survey a few years ago ranked our nationwide mail and package processing system as No. 1 in the world, over Japan, Canada, Australia, Germany and others. We met a foreign exchange student from Argentina a while back who said home delivery there was unreliable at best and terrible at worst. She and her family had a complete distrust of their postal and parcel service. A quick look at the web shows that Italy also has its share of detractors.
An independent agency of the federal government, the Postal Service continues to hemorrhage money, operating deep in the red year after year despite efforts to reverse the trend. Mail volume has substantially declined, with power companies and other utilities and creditors imploring customers to “save a stamp” and pay their bills online. Employee pension and health care costs are expensive obligations to be met as revenue slumps. With all that in mind, the Postal Regulatory Commission wants to be able to increase the price of postage stamps beyond the rate of inflation.
The decision by the federal regulators disclosed last week is part of a decade-long review of stamp rates. The plan would give the post office the leeway to hike the cost of its first-class stamp, now at 49 cents, by an additional 2 percent above the rate of inflation. The extra money would shore up the agency, upgrading information technology and replacing delivery vehicles. In some instances, the fee could be raised by another 1 percent. The new pricing setup would last for five years.
Businesses quickly objected, expressing concern that in time the higher shipping rates could lead to increases in the cost of everything from magazines to medicine. The Greeting Card Association was among groups urging the commission to hold off on major changes.
It’s a complex situation, and while we don’t want the price of postage to keep going up, even at 75 cents sending a piece of mail across town or across the country seems like a pretty good value, considering how many hands it passes through from point A to point B. The deliveries are made whether it’s 110 or 10 below.
Steeped in history, the post office is older than the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin was appointed by the Continental Congress as the first postmaster general in 1775.
As 2017 draws to a close and technology speeds onward, we should take stock and show a willingness to pay a little more to preserve such a venerable facet of American life.