Rural America’s Postal Service is Slowly Crumbling

Recently, President Donald Trump announced that there would be drastic cuts in federal retirement benefits that would affect current and future employees attempting to retire. Among other changes, the retirement system would take a $143.5 billion cut in funding. In the U.S. Postal Service, this is slowly turning into a death knell for an already struggling enterprise.

In rural regions of the United States, there are such chronic understaffing issues that up to half of the positions in a post office in rural New York were vacant. This is not a unique problem, either; rural mail carriers across the nation are feeling the weight of intense cutbacks from the U.S. government. The number of career USPS employees decreased from around 750,000 to around 500,000 over the past 20 years.

Hiring has been a challenge, too; due to a law that requires the post office to pre-fund all retirement funds, being able to afford to hire a new employee can be a challenge. The low rate of pay (in 2010, the starting rate for part-time rural carriers was slashed from approximately $21/hour to just $15) as well as long hours —some employees report working 12-hour shifts, as well as being called in to fill in for other area post offices, even on days off.

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This challenge escalates exponentially when it comes to rural post offices; the ‘retail apocalypse’ caused by megacorporations like has led to local malls and retail stores going out of business, meaning that online purchases increase dramatically. For rural employees, most of whom use their own vehicles to drive their routes, this has meant that they must overfill their vehicles with packages and carry them up long driveways, avoid angry animals, and travel through sometimes brutal weather conditions. On top of this, rural mail carriers are paid based on an ‘evaluated pay’ system- meaning that they are paid based on an estimate of how long their route should take, rather than how long it may actually take. When this is combined with the fact that the formula does not take into account the weight or size of the package, meaning that a sofa and a video game console would be calculated to take the same amount of time, it results in grossly underestimated pay for a strenuous, challenging job.

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