It’s true that technological change has affected the Postal Service’s fortunes. As people send fewer and fewer letters, the volume of first-class mail continues to tumble; between 2016 and 2018, it dropped by more than 4.5 billion pieces. This depresses the post’s revenue, forcing it to take on more debt, which in turn puts it under greater financial pressure. But as online shopping slowly replaces in-person retail, the post is sending and delivering more packages than ever before, which compensates somewhat for lost revenue. Lower mail volume is not the main issue.
In reality, most of the post’s wounds are politically inflicted. In the early 1970s, Congress passed legislation that shoehorned the agency into a convoluted half-public, half-corporate governing structure to make it operate more as a business. And in 2006, Congress required that the Postal Service pre-fund its health benefit obligations at least fifty years into the future. This rule has accounted for nearly 90 percent of the post’s red ink since.