Two months into his new job, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is being keelhauled by Democrats for alleged sabotage of the U.S. Postal Service. Nearly 200 House Democrats signed a letter this week accusing him of acting to “accelerate the crisis” at the USPS. Apparently they missed the post office’s news release last Friday, when it reported losing another $2.2 billion last quarter. Congress has only itself to blame for this mess.
That red ink is no fluke of circumstance. The post office is meant to be self-sufficient, but it hasn’t broken even for years. Total losses since 2007 run to $78 billion, according to a May report by the Government Accountability Office, which said that the “USPS’s current business model is not financially sustainable.” It’s a Blockbuster service in a Netflix world.
Overall mail volume peaked in 2006, at 213 billion pieces. As of last year, it was down 33%. More than half of what remains is “marketing mail.” Maybe you noticed while searching for a birthday card amid the real-estate fliers. Over the same period, however, the number of delivery points served by the USPS increased by 9%, from 146 million to 160 million.
There are more addresses than ever, but less mail than at any time since 1985. It’s similar on the retail side: Customer visits fell from 1.06 billion in 2010 to 812 million last year, down 23%. Yet total retail offices dropped 4%, to 34,613. The USPS’s package-delivery business is growing, but it can’t make up the difference.
A misalignment like this wouldn’t last in private business, but the Postal Service answers to politicians. The USPS has a monopoly on letter service, plus exclusive access to your mailbox. That comes with a universal-service obligation, a promise to carry a letter anywhere for the flat price of a 55-cent stamp. The USPS says its longest route is in Sidney, Mont., where a carrier goes 191 miles a day to hit 272 mailboxes. In Supai, Ariz., mules take mail down an 8-mile path to the base of the Grand Canyon.