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There seems no simple solution to the economic conundrum that is the United States Postal Service. As a result, sadly, citizens who use community post offices are finding that opportunity to be diminishing on a gradual but steepening incline toward what many would consider to be oblivion.
Postal employees for years have been feeling the pinch of a service that has lost its monopolistic footholds to advanced technology that has been more increasingly embraced and competitors whose targeted business models were built on immediacy and a more detailed understanding of their customers.
Postal customers in Finchville, Pleasureville and Mount Eden – to mention three – have been feeling that same pinch from fewer post office hours or no hours at all (although the closing of the post office in Mount Eden was created conveniently by a “lease” problem from an uncooperative landlord), and now we are seeing that problem expand across Shelby County.
Just last week residents of the Bagdad area convened in a church, ironically, to discuss their “options” in keeping the post office open for business. Those options were, of course, accepting reduced hours or allowing the post office to close, which really isn’t so much a decision as an ultimatum.
Residents near Waddy – and even Mount Eden again – will face a similar “decision” later this year.
This is not to condemn postal employees who create these alternatives. They are kind, considerate people who have a most difficult job under great duress. They inherited the culture and problems that have denigrated a foundational government service, and they work for leaders who employ politics as part of their business model, which is never a good idea, no matter your political leanings.
But we can bemoan what has happened to a service that for generations was built on the backs and legs of humans and their neighborly concerns but has been absorbed by economics and those blamed politics.
The USPS unlike many government agencies is a self-sustaining entity that doesn’t live on taxpayers’ subsidy – an issue that fiscal conservatives would applaud – but does operate in some cases with the financial overhead and financially debilitating practices of a civil service. That has allowed postal jobs in many ways historically to have been considered good careers, and many have retired comfortably at younger ages.
We don’t begrudge that – we like it when retirees are treated well – but as the state of Kentucky has been grasping in recent years, unrealistic retirement programs can be too much in a fragmenting economy. Companies commit to paying their longtime workers and then aren’t consistent about having the funds to do so. And the workers who have retired or are about to retire obviously don’t want to see alterations from the practices that feed the basic promise under which they were employed. That’s a big problem in many businesses, but it’s not the only problem.
Pension commitments are only a small part of the postal service’s loss of its purchase in our society. There are those technological advances, easier methods to communicate and the fact that those individuals who first were confronted by these opportunities to change now are of retirement age themselves, meaning the paradigm of those business practices no longer scares the greater percentage of the populace.
There is no simple solution to that cultural change, the sort of adjustments that hamper even our own industry and threaten the newsgathering business on every platform. People want faster and cheaper, and those two don’t always coexist.
We hate all of that. We have loved post offices, even when their rules, practices and restrictions have made business difficult. We have loved the people, the personal service and the long-term reliability. We have loved being able to count on executing a chore in our lives and being able to predict its outcome.
We trusted the USPS long before we trusted computers, and we prefer the faces to the interfaces.
We hope there is a solution somewhere that will slow down what we see happening with the USPS. It’s too late for many post offices, employees and customers, but it’s not too late for all.
We hope the mail one more time can deliver.