The Decline and Fall of the U.S. Postal Service

selective focus photography of a mailbox
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There are some things from the past for which I am envious. Newspapers with a morning and evening edition. Good radio programming. And mail service that was so reliable, you never thought about it. It is the good old days of reliable mail service for which I particularly pine.

When I was a kid, the mail brought letters and magazines. This was true well into the first few years after college as well. when bills were added to the mix. Letters were always fun to get. In the days before the Internet, it was through magazines that I got my fill of popular nonfiction. Magazines like TV Guide also told me what was going to be on television that evening1.

Beginning in my junior year in college the mail brought new possibilities. I began to submit stories for publication. The stories had to include SASEs–self-addressed, stamped envelopes–so that the manuscript could be returned if it was rejected. For the first fourteen years I submitted stories, they were rejected, which meant a lot of SASEs2. And once I began to have stories on submission, each day’s mail contained the possibility of a sale. Those days of wondering if a story would come back as a sale or not, eager for the sight of the mail truck, those were delightful days.

Maybe it was the Internet and email and online everything, maybe it was mismanagement, or likely a combination of both, but the decline and fall of the U.S. Postal Service in the first half century of my life has been noticeable and hard. The last three or four years have been especially bad. While the mail service has added some useful features–like a daily email that shows you what is coming in the day’s mail–the reality has not lived up to the message. Two or three days a week, I’ll see three or four items in my morning email message, but will get no actual mail in my mailbox. It is as though the mail accumulates for a few days and then gets delivered in bulk.

When I have something to post, I’ll clip it to our mailbox for the mail carrier to pick up. On days that we get mail, the mail carrier will pick up whatever is clipped to the mailbox. However, on those days when we get no mail (despite the morning email message to the contrary), the letter carrier will walk past our mailbox in plain sight of the outgoing mail–and completely ignore it.

On our trips, I put a hold on our mail. Fifty percent of the time, the hold is ignored. Thankfully, our neighbors keep an eye on things and collect the accumulating mail. The other fifty percent of the time, the mail is held far longer than the hold indicates: most recently, nearly a week-and-a-half longer. I was able to submit a ticket to the post office, and get a response three business days later that they were investigating the matter, all during the time of the “extended” hold on our mail.

To me, the mail service no longer seems reliable, and I have been trying to ween my dependence upon it, relying instead on electronic forms of communication, and neighbors for things like collecting mail when were are away. To be fair, the local post office stood us in good stead when we applied for passports for the kids last year.

It would be one thing if there were reasonable explanations of this overall decline. The local post office claimed lots of people out due to the pandemic, which seems legitimate, except this decline began well before the pandemic. There is sometimes news reports of funding issues within the post office. I would be willing to pay more for reliable service. But the most recent reports I’ve come across refer to increased prices and reduced services.

Perhaps the post office has a P.R. problem. I would be interested in an in-depth, investigative report on the decline of the U.S. postal service. But I doubt that such muckraking would grab the attention of news editors, when there is so much more colorful, if ephemeral, news to report.

I’d send a letter of complaint the to Postmaster General, but I’m afraid it would get lost in the mail.

Written on April 3, 2022.

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  1. This was also when the semi-annual “sweeps” weeks still existed, and I’d pour through the latest TV guide to get a summary of the newest NYPD Blue or E.R.
  2. Self-addressed stamped envelopes.


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