Return to sender

”Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

These words are etched in stone atop the nation’s largest post office building in midtown Manhattan. For well over a century, they have served as a credo repeated with pride by mail carriers throughout the land.

Unfortunately, this famous motto soon may require a dismal addendum —

”However, an economic downturn and the widespread use of electronic communications have necessitated severe cutbacks which may curtail your service at certain times and places.”

The U.S. Postal Service has been on a downward trajectory for the past 20 years. As use of the Internet for primary communications, including payment of bills, has increased exponentially, the overall number of postal workers has shrunk dramatically. In 2000, there were more than 800,000 postal workers. Today, the total is barely more than 636,000. The seemingly annual increase in postage fees has worked to accelerate this trend, rather than stabilize it.

Throughout this downsizing, the Postal Service has managed to keep its commitment to deliver the mail six days a week and to maintain post offices in just about every community in the United States. This commitment is now being challenged by the economic downturn, and it may be down for the count.

According to reports, the Postal Service currently is evaluating at least 3,100 of its 36,700 post offices and retail outlets for closure or consolidation. It also is considering eliminating Saturday mail delivery. A decision is expected by Oct. 1.

The numbers confronting the government’s decision-makers are grim: the nation’s mail-carrying service reported a $2-billion loss for the quarter ending March 31; mail volume is down almost 15 percent from last year. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, postal officials are predicting the agency will handle about 180 billion pieces of mail during this fiscal year, about 32 billion pieces less than the volume handled just two years ago.

Predictably, the American Postal Workers Union has pledged to fight the proposed cuts, calling them ”desperate.”

A spokesman for the local dog population told us his brethen would join the postal workers in opposing the curtailing of Saturday service.

”Yeah, I know we’re mortal enemies and all that, but the weekend is going to be very dull if we don’t get a least one shot at the mailman,” he said.

We were going to ask his opinion of electronic bill-paying services, but he rolled over on his back and started snoring before we could pose the question.