Cy Serna was our mailman.
I know that is as political incorrect as you can be by today’s cancel culture standards and that if by some far-fetched chance I run for the U.S. Senate I will be branded a sexist but that’s what postal workers that delivered your mail were called back in 1969.
Mr. Serna one day stopped mom as she was getting out of the car and he was coming back down our front steps lugging the huge leather mail bag over his shoulder after shoving the day’s mail through the slot in our front door. The Lincoln Post Office hadn’t yet started issuing the three-wheel push carts that were a godsend back in the days when the United States Postal Service delivered practically everything.
“Verna,” he said, “why the hell don’t you get your magazines at the store like everybody else and why the hell does your son need the Los Angeles Times?”
Mr. Serna was not being funny. He’d known my mom since high school. And he was generally irked about the fact we subscribed to lots of magazines given they added considerable weight to his bag. I didn’t help things as I had earned enough money from a summer job after buying clothes for school to add more weight by subscribing to three news magazine weeklies — Time, Newsweek and US News & World Report. I also was able to afford to splurge — only for a month though — for a mail subscription to the Los Angeles Times.
Along with those magazines came personal letters, postcards, greeting cards, bills, lots of catalogues given mail order beat the Internet to the punch, small parcels, junk mail up the wazoo, and of course, the weekly Lincoln News Messenger newspaper.
Mail delivery was a six-day a week occurrence.
By 2010, the writing was on the proverbial wall.
The United States Postal Service Office of Inspector General was well aware of shifting communication means and dropping first-class volume. The oversight office recommended eliminating Saturday residential mail delivery despite non-stop howling from Congress.
By 2013, Saturday service was finally eliminated. The move saved the Postal Service $2 billion annually. It was an essential move for several reasons.
First and foremost, how America communicated right down to credit card bills and person to person was being revolutionized by technology. The Postal Service was also hamstrung by a 2006 decision by Congress requiring the Postal Service to pre-fund nearly 90 percent of its health benefits liabilities for 50 years into the future. This came after the 1970s decision to make the Post Office a hybrid animal caught in the twilight zone of still being a government agency but was no longer being “subsidized” by the government.
That 2010 Inspector General report recommending cutting Saturday service actually went a step further. They cited a Boston Consulting Group Study that indicated what really was needed to keep the Postal Service afloat was to shift to three-day a week residential delivery with half the homes getting mail on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the other half on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Such a move back in 2010 was projected to save $10 billion annually.
The recommendation was based on a projection that the typical household that was receiving 3.8 pieces of first class mail a day in 2010 would drop to 2.8 pieces of first class mail by 2020.
According to the Postal Service’s Postal Facts page, the mail service now handles 181.9 million pieces of first class mail daily with 157 million residential and business delivery points.
The daily average for first class mail per address hasn’t dropped to 2.8 pieces as projected a decade ago but to less than 1.8 pieces of first class mail a day.
Making all of this more of a struggle is roughly a million new points of delivery are being added every year.
The Postal Service is under a universal delivery mandate by Congress. It should be noted the Post Office was founded nearly 244 years ago as an essential conduit for communication and commerce.
Fifty years ago most of us could not function without getting mail delivery five or six days a week. But that need has gone the way of having to make your way to a bank Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. — and as late as 6 p.m. on Friday — to do financial transactions. I go to the Postal Office once a week, sometimes twice a week, to get my mail. I gave up on home delivery 14 years ago when I became a victim of mail theft courtesy of meth heads.
A third of the billing statements I receive are online. The rest are all via text. All but PG&E, my city bill, and mortgage are all handled by phone transfers that security experts say is significantly safer from hackers than online payments. In the coming months I plan to shift the city and PG&E to automatic payment. The jury is still out on my mortgage company because the Texas bank that holds my loan wants a $25 fee to set up an automatic transfer. As far as I’m concerned, until they change the policy to make me pay a fee so they get my money quicker I’m more than happy to drop the check in the mail on the due date and let the Postal Service take it’s sweet time as I have 15 days to enjoy having the mortgage company’s money still in my checking account unit a late charge kicks in.
It’s sure I’m not much different than most people. The Postal Service is still critical but it is not as critical as it once was.
This is not intended it be a column about the upcoming election; although if other states had the same rules as California when it came to mail ballots there would be no question of them arriving in time even via the mail to be counted.
The Postal Service has been hamstrung by Congress long before the current political circus took over the federal government. The non-partisan Postal Inspector General Office has been diligently making the case for reform and restructuring for 30 years but they might as well as be whistling in the wind.
It is clear the Postal Service needs to double down on parcel delivery so that the cherry pickers — FedEx, United Parcel Service and Amazon’s foray into third party delivery — won’t leave areas of this country behind as e-commerce changes how we shop.
At the same time, we still need mail service even though most of the stuff I receive today are postcards from over-friendly real estate agents that think it is OK to be on a first name basis with me while asking if I want to sell my house.
Medicine can be delivered in a timely manner three days a week as can everyone’s credit card bills.
Reform is desperately needed to keep the Postal Service effective without bleeding financial losses. But thanks to the Twiddle-Dum and Twiddle-Dee political infighting right now the real need is being buried in a smoke screen by petty politics as usual on both sides of the aisle.