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Postal worker To cut costs, first-class mail delivery will soon take 2-5 days. (Michael Macor / San Francisco
Chronicle / Corbis)

Do We Still Need the Post Office?

As it struggles to survive in the Internet age, the U.S. Postal Service slows delivery to cut costs

By Laura Leigh Davidson | null null , null
<p>The USPS plans to close half of its processing centers. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) </p>

The USPS plans to close half of its processing centers. (Scott Olson / Getty Images)

The United States Postal Service (USPS) has long promised that “neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night” will stop it from delivering the mail. That motto may still be true, but starting in 2012, the USPS will deliver your mail more slowly.

On Monday, the USPS announced plans to eliminate most next-day delivery of first-class mail. The service slowdown is part of an effort to cut costs and solve some of the agency’s serious financial troubles.

The USPS plans to close roughly half of its mail-processing centers and cut about 28,000 jobs, starting in March 2012. With fewer processing centers and workers to handle the mail, service will have to slow down.

Right now, more than 40 percent of all first-class mail is delivered in one day. The rest arrives at destinations in the continental U.S. within three days. With the planned service cuts, first-class delivery will take from two to five days.

Blame the Internet

Since people started using e-mail and other online tools to communicate and pay bills more quickly, the need to send traditional “snail mail” has lessened dramatically.

Sending documents via the USPS is also more expensive than digital communications, giving people yet another reason to conduct their business online.

As a result, the USPS has seen a 20 percent drop in its yearly volume—the number of items it delivers. It processes 40 billion fewer pieces of mail per year now than just five years ago. That drop in volume means the USPS makes less money to pay its operating costs, such as the salaries of postal workers and electricity use at its thousands of facilities.

Believe it or not, customers will pay more for the slower service. The price of first-class stamps will increase by a penny, to 45 cents, on January 22, 2012.

Should the Post Office Be Saved?

The USPS is a government agency, established by Congress more than 230 years ago. It does not receive money from taxpayers because it is supposed to operate like a business, using the money it earns from postage fees to cover its costs.

In the new era of lightning-fast communication, however, the USPS is failing as a business. Some people take this as a sign that we don’t need it anymore. If private companies competed to deliver mail to homes, they argue, we might have better, more cost-effective options for service.

While this debate rages, Congress is getting involved. In both the Senate and the House of Representatives, bills that aim to rescue the USPS have been introduced.

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