Speak Your Piece: 12 Points on Postal Service

The wife of a part-time, contracted Postal Service driver explains a dozen things you may not know about rural America’s communications lifeline. From the political to the practical, the list covers everything from benefits (probably not what you think) to back aches (more common than they’d like).

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survey, 77% of respondents believe (incorrectly) the Postal Service is funded either partially or fully through tax dollars. Not so. The Postal Service is an independent establishment of the executive branch of our government. No tax dollars are used to fund operations: It’s funded solely by revenues generated through products and services.

In other words, it’s set up to run like a business. One the other hand, federal law requires that competitive products like Express Mail and Priority Mail cover their own “attributable costs” and an appropriate share of the Postal Service’s institutional costs. So unlike other businesses, the Post Office can’t sell some products or services at a loss to attract new customers, penetrate new markets, or match a competitor’s prices.

And while you might assume federal agencies are honor-bound to use the Post Office, that’s not so, either. Agencies like the VA and the Ag Department require the use of Postal Service competitors. They may have good reasons for doing so. Nevertheless, that hurts. In 2012, federal agencies spent $336.9 million on shipping. The Postal Service’s share of that market was just $4.8 million.

more than $9 billion in annual revenue for the Postal Service. You might be surprised at what your neighbors are shipping.

For example, 99% of my husband’s hand-crafted landing nets, which he wholesales to fly fishing shops around the country, are shipped by mail. Because of the bulk of his packages, he generally drives them in to the Post Office instead of using carrier pick-up.

Most of the smaller packages I ship, though, go right in the mailbox. I have a “storefront” on Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade goods. The site makes it easy to buy postage and make a shipping label.

“Peer to peer commerce” like this is a large and growing segment of retail e-commerce. It posted overall estimated revenues of $200 billion in 2011 and is expected to grow more than 60% through 2016. Craigslist and eBay are among the top 10 most visited websites in the United States. So you might find that your neighbors are mailing everything from soap to nuts to vintage outboard motor parts. And many of them are concerned about what would happen to package mailing costs if UPS and FedEx, who don’t really want to cover the last mile, were our only choices.

an increase of 123% over the 2008 general election, and a 50 % increase over the 2010 general election. But even if it’s good revenue, those slippery, odd-sized pieces are a nightmare to sort, bundle and deliver.

You may expect mail delivery to be provided as a public service, then, like most of us, complain as rates go up to keep pace with rising costs. You may expect the Postal Service to run like a lean business, then be frustrated with rules that keep it from doing so. And it’s even harder with the added burden of pre-funding of retirement benefits. You may suspect, as many people do, that this is part of a greater effort to privatize public institutions. And it’s hard to deny that special interests seem to benefit.

After all, the political candidates who fill your mailbox at election time pay a lower rate per piece than you do to mail your tax return.

Donna Kallner’s husband, Bill, delivers mail as a part-time relief driver on a Highway Contract Route — a route populated by the best cookie bakers in rural northern Wisconsin.

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