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Do We Still Need the Post Office?

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The holidays are fast approaching and you want to wish your cousins a happy new year. Do you shoot them a text, send a Snapchat, or drop a card in a mailbox?

Chances are, you won’t be going to a post office—and you’re not alone. Last year, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) shipped nearly 150 billion pieces of mail, down from 203 billion a decade earlier.

Today, most personal commu­ni­cation is done via email, texting, and social media, and most bills are paid online. Many people are asking: Do we still need the post office?

Supporters say the USPS is necessary because it performs services that no for-profit business would. That’s because, by federal law, the USPS has a responsibility “to provide postal services to bind the Nation together” by serving every community regardless of size, distance, or economic status.

Opponents, however, say the post office is no longer useful in a world of instant communication. Not counting invitations and holiday cards, the average U.S. house­hold receives only 10 pieces of personal mail per year. Critics say a private company could modernize the Postal Service, developing new delivery systems, such as drones, for the way we live today.

Do we still need the post office? Two experts—one the head of the postal workers union, the other a researcher of economic and government policies—weigh in.

YES

The United States Postal Service is important to our economy. Every day, postal workers deliver nearly 500 million pieces of mail—without spending a dime of taxpayer money and at a fraction of the price of private companies such as FedEx and UPS.

Despite the popularity of social media, texts, and email, the post office remains the heart of many communities. And it’s essential to commerce: People rely on the Postal Service for the speedy delivery of online purchases, invitations, bills, magazines, medicines, and more.

Although the number of letters has declined in recent years, online shopping has led to an explosion in package volume. Unless someone figures out how to email your Amazon order, that trend will continue. And in many communities, the post office is still the most convenient place to buy stamps and to ship and receive packages.

The Postal Service delivers nearly 500 million pieces of mail every day.

The USPS must remain a public service because it does something no private delivery company would: It serves 157 million addresses, in every city and town across the country, including unprofitable routes in isolated rural areas and low-income neighbor­hoods.

Our nation must maintain a strong public mail system. Post office hours and services should be expanded, not reduced. Many locations could provide customers with other essential services, such as basic banking and internet access.

Article I of the U.S. Constitution empowers Congress “to establish post offices.” For more than 240 years, the nation’s postal system has carried out its legal obligation to “bind the Nation together” for commerce and communication. We should make sure it remains vibrant for many years to come.

—Mark Dimondstein
President, American Postal Workers Union

NO

It’s time for the government to say goodbye to the U.S. Postal Service as we now know it. Gone are the days when people relied on letter carriers to bring them mail from family and friends. Most of us communicate by phone, email, or text. We don’t write letters.

Many businesses are also moving away from paper mail, finding it more efficient to handle billing electronically. That’s why mail volume has dropped by 26 percent since 2008. And does anyone like going to a post office and standing in line to buy stamps? Nobody I know.

Today, more than 90 percent of all mail is junk mail—catalogues and flyers sent by companies to try to sell stuff to people. A lot of that gets thrown away unread. Why is the government driving 18-wheel, pollution-producing trucks millions of miles all over America carrying this paper?

Most of us use phones, email, or texts to communicate with one another.

The Postal Service has lost more than $13 billion in the past three years. In 2001, a former head of the USPS shocked many people by saying it should be privatized (changed from being govern­ment-run to being a private business).

I think that’s a great idea. Other nations, such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and Sweden, successfully privat­ized their postal services. If we were to privatize the USPS, its new owners could reinvent it for the 21st century. We might see investment in new technologies, such as having drones make deliveries.

When Benjamin Franklin ran the post office in the 18th century, mail was often delivered to inns and general stores—community locations where people could pick up and drop off their mail. Wouldn’t it be great if you could go to a coffee shop and drop off a package? That’s exactly the kind of innovation we could expect if we privatized the Postal Service.

—Kevin R. Kosar
Vice President of Policy, R Street Institute

Write About It! What do you think? Do we still need the post office? Write a one-page argument essay explaining your answer, using facts from this article as supporting evidence.

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