On any given Saturday, the line of people at my local post office in Manhattan's Inwood section often stretches out to the street.
Some come to pick up their mail because of a broken box. Others bring wrapped boxes to send to relatives abroad. Many need to buy postal money orders for grandma in the Dominican Republic or Mexico.
Some even buy stamps.
All over America, the poorer the neighborhood, the longer the lines at the post office.
The idea that this most visible neighborhood presence of our national government for more than 200 years faces financial default on Sept. 30 is truly astounding.
Yet, that's exactly what will happen unless the politicians in Washington act quickly.
Critics say the Internet, FedEx and UPS have turned the post office into a relic. That view ignores the reality that 30% of Americans still do not use the Internet - most of them poor and elderly. Or that the Postal Service had its two biggest years for mail volume in 2006 and 2007, just before the financial crash.
Those critics claim the agency is losing billions of dollars annually because of a bloated workforce that makes too much money and has generous health benefits and pensions.
Even President Obama's postmaster general, Patrick Donahoe, seems to agree. Donahoe wants Congress to give him the power to trash a postal union contract he signed in May. He wants to lay off 120,000 workers and close thousands of post offices.
His agency is in such bad shape, Donahoe warns, that he cannot meet a $5.5 billion payment to the Treasury on Sept. 30 for future health benefits.
Union leaders and consumer advocates like Ralph Nader insist this is all a "manufactured crisis" to drive down wages and break the unions.
At least two recent postal audits seem to back up those claims. They show the government has been siphoning too much in Postal Service revenues to pay for health care and pension benefits.
Take the $5.5 billion the agency must pay the government in a few days. That's part of a "Postal Accountability" law the Republicans pushed through in December 2006 - just before they lost control of the House and Senate.
It requires the Postal Service to fully fund health benefits of retirees for the next 75 years. As a result, the agency must contribute $103 billion to that fund by 2016.
In other words, the Postal Service is paying for health care costs of people it hasn't even hired yet. That's something no other government or private company is required to do, Nader noted in a letter to Congress last week.
Then there are pension costs. Even though it has been an autonomous entity since 1971, the Postal Service must make regular payments into two federal retirement funds.
The federal government's formula for those payments has led to huge overcharges.
A 2009 postal inspector general's report found an accumulated overcharge of $75 billion. Another report in 2010 calculated it at $50 billion.
Both audits suggest the government has been using post office revenues as a federal pension piggy bank for decades.
Were it not for all that lost money, the agency would be in the black, Nader notes.
So what is the solution of Obama's postmaster to the manufactured loses and those long lines at my neighborhood post office? Shut down Saturday service and lay off 120,000 workers, he says.
In the midst of a terrible recession, Donahoe proposes driving a great American institution further into the ground. We'll soon see if all these people in Washington have lost their minds.
I'll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.: LBJ's Ghost
I know the post office is a prime example of government inefficiency, but they really need to do some better things for sure, where I live we have a nice new post office, and most times during the day it is reasonably well staffed, but after 5, when everyone gets off work they drop it down to 1 teller!, resulting in literally 30+ minute waits.
I used to sell more stuff on ebay, but now it comes down to "is this small enough to just put in the mailbox" otherwise it is just not worth it...
another thing that gets me is when they have collectible stamps like star wars and they only print such small runs, it's practically money in the bank because people won't use them for postage, and the post office just gets face value so no point in restricting them.....
I do think it would be ok to reduce the delivery to every other day instead of every day though