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Let’s talk about the post office.
Wait, wait. Don’t click away. I promise this won’t be boring.
Recently, Amazon has come under fire for alleged abuse of the USPS, using the nation’s mail service to do low-profit, last-mile deliveries.
Blaming corporations for simply using services the USPS willingly offers misses a greater source of rot within. In 2006, Congress passed a law obligating USPS to bank enough cash to cover 75 years worth of retiree health benefits, something no other entity—government, corporate or otherwise—is known to do.
Besides this competitive disadvantage, the postal service also has a public responsibility that FedEx, UPS, DHL and the rest don’t. Corporations simply close stores that aren’t profitable and can charge whatever they want. Post offices are obliged to serve and deliver to every business and resident in the country, and if they want to raise prices or close a branch, they need Congressional approval.
The postal service is losing billions each year. In fact, it recorded $5 billion in net losses every year from 2013-2016, which also happens to be the annual cost of the retiree health benefit obligations. Meanwhile, increased efficiency and better management have made the USPS more streamlined, and its package delivery business profitable.
Today, the Postal Service has $15 billion in outstanding debt, and rolling back the strict pension regulations will only go so far.
But there may be an idea that solves two problems, and doesn’t involve giving up your Prime membership or breaking off your burgeoning relationship with Alexa—postalbanking. If USPS offices doubled as banks, they would greatly expand their reach, bring in new customers and also provide financial services direly in need.
An estimated 9 million people in the United States are unbanked, living without a checking or savings account, and an additional 25 million are underbanked, holding an account but still reliant on services like pawn shops and payday lenders. On average, those households lay out an extra $2,412 per year in interest and fees. They’re often the people who can least afford it.
The post office, with 30,000 locations including many in neighborhoods where banks are loath to set up shop, could reach an untapped market, reduce strain on low-income families and, thanks to its scale, offer many financial services at a steep discount.