Towns can’t go postal on post offices

By Lisa Schulz

The U.S. Postal Service is planning to cut 120,000 employees and close 3,700 post offices across the country to help reduce its $10 billion deficit. Some post offices located in inner cities are included in the closings, but the majority will be removed in small, rural towns that need them. Approximately 208 post offices in Illinois are in danger of being shut down.

Regardless of location, post offices can’t afford to close. Putting postal workers out of a job certainly won’t reduce the country’s current 9.1 percent unemployment rate. Having fewer postal workers with expanded routes would greatly slow down the postal service.

The business of selling stamps and weighing packages will have to go elsewhere, putting a damper on communication as a whole. Marked by an American flag, post offices are governmental landmarks that serve as more than a mail exchange, especially in small towns, such as Millington, Ill.—home to 665 residents and no schools, libraries or stores, according to the Chicago Tribune. Rural post offices serve as a social gathering spots and newsstands, displaying bulletin boards of local news and advertisements.

The absence of a nearby post office would require customers to travel to another town’s post office. Relocating customers to other post offices requires residents to spend more money for transportation, especially in rural areas where the next town may be 15 miles away, as is the reality for Millington. Some companies don’t even deliver to rural locations, and packages are instead handled by the post office.

The relocation also poses a problem for people without transportation or without Internet service. Web access is harder to come by in the country, and some towns don’t even have libraries. Older residents would be particularly affected by these changes, especially those who are most accustomed to relying on the postal system and those who don’t own a driver’s license.

Post offices could generate more revenue through raising stamp and shipping prices. Although packaging prices of other companies vary on delivery time, there is still a demand for quick delivery regardless of high charges. The USPS could consider raising express delivery prices to compete with the quick convenience of other companies.

Besides these challenges, the security of electronic mail is questionable. According to USPS, even though each of the 171 billion letters sent in the mail during 2010 weren’t guaranteed security, important documents, bills and checks can easily be inspected for invasion of privacy. In an email inbox, an intruder could mark a private email as “unread” without the owner even knowing his or her mail was read.

Although the use of email is increasing and visits to the post office have decreased by 5 billion between 2009 and 2010, according to USPS, package deliveries aren’t going to disappear any time soon. The USPS reports $1.5 billion was made in 2010 from packaging services.

College students are also prime customers for package delivery. Students are sent care packages from family and order many forgotten items from home or from online shops. College students are also notorious for ordering and selling textbooks online.

Fortunately, the endangered post offices aren’t going to be forced to close immediately. Postal Service officials will determine whether or not a post office should remain in business depending on how much money it makes, the amount and type of its transactions and—especially important for small towns—its history. The historical landmarks will also have a chance to survive through the opinions of their customer and the assessed postal need of each community.

The Postal Service will hold a meeting within the affected communities in 60 days to evaluate the business information for each post office. So those who want birthday money from grandparents and timely shipped packages will have 30 days to appeal the decision to the Postal Regulatory Commission and speak up for a business they may have taken for granted. Post offices hold too much history and too many communities together to be closed so abruptly.