A letter a day keeps the postman coming by

alexsl/Getty images Open mailbox
WRITE A LETTER: The U.S. Postal Service is a public service guaranteed to us in the U.S. Constitution. But with costs exceeding revenues, and fewer Americans writing letters, it is in jeopardy. It might be time to bring back letter writing.
The U.S. Postal Service is vital to our rural communities, and we can do our part to save it.

A recent “CBS Sunday Morning” survey reports that 37% of Americans say it’s been five or more years since they’ve written and mailed a personal letter. And 22% of Americans under the age of 45 have never written or mailed a personal letter.

Is it any wonder, then, that our U.S. Postal Service is in dire straits?

Getting the mail

My grandmother was a champion letter-writer in her day. With nine brothers and their families, plus her four children and their families — not to mention her husband’s side of the tree and their families — Grandma devised a system to make sure that everyone got pertinent news on a regular basis. She used her dining room table to sort piles of items she wanted to mail to each recipient, along with their own notepad, on which, she would compose their letter throughout the week.

Coupons for baby formula and diapers for her new grandchild? Clipping of the latest Erma Bombeck column? Photo in the local paper of a family member or neighbor? Add them to the piles.

I bet many of your own families had the same system in the day.

And how much fun was it to get a letter addressed to you in the mailbox? Didn’t you feel special that a friend or family member took the time to hand-write a letter, slip it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and mail it to you across the country?

Maybe you grew up in the country with the mailbox far from the house on a country driveway, like me. How grown-up did you feel the first time your mom deemed you old enough to fetch the mail by yourself?

An email or a Facebook post on your laptop just doesn’t give the same vibes.

Postal woes

The USPS has a history of budget deficits. But, then again, it’s more public utility than a business model.

According to Forbes magazine, a General Accountability Office report found that USPS lost $69 billion over the previous 11 fiscal years. In 2020, it posted a $9.2 billion loss, even though total revenues increased by $2 billion. The cause? While package delivery increased by 18.8% during the pandemic, first-class mail dropped 4.2% and marketing mail dropped by 15.2%.

Recently the news has been about the postal delays across the nation. And I’m sure some of you have experienced that in some form or another. Perhaps your prescription from the Veterans Administration was late getting to you. Maybe you’re a small-business owner working out of your home who’s had delayed product shipments to your customers. Or you might be one of thousands who are waiting on important checks, or maybe had one of your bill payments delayed going out.

Maybe you’re even seeing delays in your favorite farm publication getting to your mailbox?

Vital function

The Founding Fathers felt that a functioning postal service was so important to our new country that they included it in Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 of the U.S. Constitution. The Postal Clause empowers Congress to establish “Post Offices and post Roads.”

They knew back then that a postal service was the way to transmit ideas among citizens, no matter where they lived in the nation. Whether living in the city or in the country, the USPS was a means of commerce — and important to the economic stability of the land.

And even though we have other delivery services available to us, the USPS is still the basic service that is available to all persons in the U.S. — from coast to coast. It’s the only one guaranteed to us in the Constitution.

A letter a day

So what can we do to support our USPS?

Write a letter, or several letters, a week. Mail a postcard to your college roommate just because. Send a birthday card, instead of a GIF file on Facebook, to your uncle across the country. Maybe start your own “to-be-mailed” piles to family members on your dining room table.

Subscribe to periodicals and your local newspapers. Write to your elected officials or to your local newspaper when something is bothering you.

Teach your young people to write thank-you notes and mail them. (And while you’re at it, they’ll also learn why the email symbol on their phone is a letter.)

In short — if there’s an option to use the USPS, use it. Because I fear this is one of those instances where if we don’t use the service, it will be lost to us one way or another.

And, at any rate, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you just made someone’s day to see your handwriting in their mailbox. I think Grandma would approve.

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