Postal carrier Jasmine Yang wears a mask and gloves as preventative measures against the coronavirus, as she delivers the mail in Sacramento on March 25.

Postal carrier Jasmine Yang wears a mask and gloves as preventative measures against the coronavirus, as she delivers the mail in Sacramento on March 25. Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Viewpoint: Save the Postal Service

Trump’s personal hostility has merged with long-standing conservative antipathy to endanger a vital civic institution.

When I carried the mail in Durham, North Carolina—back in the 1990s, before I became a historian—an older man used to greet me joyfully, “Here comes Uncle Sam!” To him, and to others on my route, I represented not just the chance of a letter, but also a connection to the federal government—and to an institution that had probably provided a relative with a steady job, and a path into the middle class. The United States Postal Service is among the country’s most popular institutions, enjoying approval ratings as high as 90 percent. The USPS delivers 48 percent of the world’s mail to 160 million homes. Yet in late March, as the Postal Service struggled to deal with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump threatened to veto a version of the $2.2 trillion bipartisan CARES Act stimulus package that contained a $13 billion grant to help the USPS keep meeting its payroll, gassing its vehicles, and paying its suppliers. What he finally signed instead included a $10 billion loan that would require approval by the Treasury Department.

Trump’s move triggered a wave of disbelief, with people taking to social media to thank letter carriers and buying stamps to keep the USPS afloat. But the truth is, the Postal Service has been under attack by conservatives for years. Trump’s personal hostility to the USPS—“the Post Office is a joke,” he said on Friday—merges with a long-standing Republican embrace of both postal privatization and the trope that the USPS is a mismanaged business. The Trump administration is now playing a costly game of chicken to get what it sought long before the current crisis: drastic service and facilities cuts, more noncareer labor and outsourcing, and a rollback of employee rights and benefits. If it succeeds, we’ll all be the poorer for it.

On March 18, 1970, the successors of the original post riders revolted against both their employer and their union leaders in an eight-day nationwide illegal wildcat strike, demanding a living wage and job dignity as well as greater union democracy. The roots of the Postal Service’s current financial crisis lie in the compromise legislation that followed the strike, the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act. The act replaced the Post Office Department with a hybrid government agency and corporation that would provide full collective-bargaining rights to employees, become financially self-supporting, and continue to provide universal service at reasonable rates. Although the USPS provides a service mandated by the Constitution and federal law, it has received no federal funds since 1982, relying on postal product sales to keep revenue ahead of expenditures.

The Post Office has historically provided an avenue toward middle-class stability for a wide variety of Americans—veterans, new immigrants, rural migrants—but for no group has it been more important than for African Americans. The Post Office was for many years the nation’s largest employer of black workers; in the decades that followed its conversion into the USPS, blacks were at least twice as likely to work for the Postal Service as whites. The Postal Service today is 37 percent minority and 37 percent female.

Conservatives, who had previously argued for the privatization of the Post Office, continued those efforts after the 1971 creation of the Postal Service. But not until 2006, during the George W. Bush administration, did those efforts gain much traction. That year, Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, imposing a unique burden on the Postal Service by requiring it to pre-fund retirees’ health benefits through annual payments of roughly $5.5 billion, for 10 years. These obligations, the rise of the internet, and the Great Recession combined put the USPS in the red, where it remains today: The USPS had $11 billion of outstanding debt at the end of the last fiscal year (which was up to $14.4 billion as of April 1). Excluding those debt payments, it should be noted, the USPS has finished each year with revenue surpluses for most of the past decade—as a 2018 Trump administration report documented.

The Postal Service survived the 2008–09 crisis in a diminished state. American homes and businesses did not stop growing or depending on the USPS, but hundreds of post offices and mail-processing centers were shuttered, many others had their hours cut, some services were reduced, and the postal workforce has lost 126,000 career positions since 2009.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.