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What's the Future of the U.S. Postal Service?

Pete Springer/OPB

The new issue of Esquire Magazine has crash course in Oregon geography for non-Oregonians.

In a nearly 10,000-word odyssey, it follows a letter mailed from a house in Gold Hill to an address in Manhattan. From the old mining town on the Rogue River, it takes a short road trip south to Medford. A truck then ferries it 275 miles north to Portland, where it hitches a ride in the cargo hold of a passenger flight to New York City. From there it moves through a succession of sorting facilities before ending up at its final destination. The whole trip — mailbox to mailbox — doesn’t even take three days.

But the article — written by Jesse Lichtenstein, a native Oregonian — is much more than postal travelogue.

It’s a history of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and a dissection of its current problems, with questions hanging over every page: will the Postal Service survive? And what will it look like if it does?

in Lichtenstein’s telling, the USPS is a “miracle of high technology and human touch” that “binds us together as a country:”

Today the postal service has a network that stretches across America: 461 distribution centers, 32,000 post offices, and 213,000 vehicles, the largest civilian fleet in the world. Trucks carrying mail log 1.2 billion miles a year. The postal service handles almost half of the entire planet‘s mail. It can physically connect any American to any other American in 3.7 million square miles of territory in a few days, often overnight: a vast lattice of veins and arteries and capillaries designed to circulate the American lifeblood of commerce and information and human contact.

It’s also suffering from massive drops in mail volume (thanks to the Internet) and massive unfunded pension liabilities (thanks to Congress).

We’ll talk to Lichtenstein about the past, present, and possible futures for the USPS.

What does the postal service mean to you? How much do you rely on it? How would drastically reduced service affect your life?


  • Jesse Lichtenstein: Author and Journalist
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