There’s a lot of misleading conventional wisdom about the U.S. Postal Service. Some of it was contained in a recent Federal News Radio report on USPS’ decision to delay plans to close dozens of mail-processing facilities nationwide.
Such action would slow the mail, thus hurting businesses; rural communities; tens of millions of Americans paying bills by mail; seniors, veterans and others receiving medicines or government benefits by mail; and states with vote-by-mail provisions.
The story accurately reported reaction from lawmakers and industry groups working to preserve quality mail service. But it fed stereotypes about postal finances and prospects, starting with the headline: “Mail or no mail, USPS facilities remain open for now.”
The lead depicted an agency that, facing opposition, has put off a cost-cutting plan, “even as it continues to lose billions of dollars a year.”
Later one reads this: “The Postal Service has struggled over the past decade as people have turned to email and other forms of electronic communication. It has posted multibillion-dollar losses for several years in a row. It reported a $1.5 billion loss for the second quarter of fiscal 2015.”
A bleak situation, it seems — a Postal Service backing away from reducing services despite mail revenues sent plunging by the Internet, sparking multibillion-dollar losses.
Let’s add some facts and context.
Mail fell following the worst recession in 80 years, dropping 10 percent in 2009 alone. But as the economy gradually improves, mail revenue has stabilized. Meanwhile, with online shopping growing because of the Internet, package revenue is skyrocketing, auguring well for the future. Year-to-date, package revenue’s up 11.2 percent over last year and mail revenue is up slightly.
As a result, the Postal Service reported $1.4 billion in operating profits in fiscal year 2014, a figure already surpassed in 2015’s first half with $1.413 billion.
Postal red ink stems not from the mail but from congressional politics. In 2006, a lame-duck Congress mandated that the Postal Service pre-fund retiree health benefits. No other agency or company has to pre-fund for even one year; the Postal Service must pre-fund 75 years into the future and pay for it all over a decade. That $5.6 billion annual charge is the red ink.