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Most Americans think a mail-free Saturday sounds fine: Poll

March 5, 2010 |  1:04 pm

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John Potter, the latest in a long line of Postmasters General stretching back to Benjamin Franklin in 1775, let it slip to reporters in Washington Tuesday that his financially-squeezed Postal Service was pondering an end to Saturday mail delivery.

Because that news release was mailed, it just arrived this morning. No, just kidding. However, because the economy move involves the post office and the average American doesn't like surprises except for "The Bachelor,"  the Saturday cutback wouldn't actually arrive until next year.

Even then it requires congressional approval. And watching how inoperable a Congress with lopsided majorities has been on healthcare legislation during the last year, the postal service cuts would likely be even further delayed.

And, let's be honest now. Watching Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid these past several months leading into a crucial....

... midterm election year, does anyone seriously anticipate either one going against a postal union's opposition to killing Saturday mail delivery?

Still, a new Rasmussen Reports poll this week indicates that while an overwhelming majority of Americans (70%) have a favorable opinion of the Postal Service, a substantial majority (58%) are good with not getting 15 to 20 pizza flyers and pre-approved credit card offers on Saturday.

In fact, some folks suggested that to save even more money, the Postal Service eliminate mail delivery Monday through Friday and just bring it all by on Saturday, so it can be thrown out at once.

Historically, the post office has played a vital role in American commerce, political patronage and romance. Anyone else remember SWAK?  Mailed correspondence provided official records and, after rural free delivery was established in 1896 and parcel post in 1913, facilitated growth of a national economy through mail order. Think Sears, Roebuck.

Today, documents and products can be shipped overnight. Many such typed missives can be electronically transmitted instantly, even from war zones. And they can be deleted almost as quickly.

A Mailbox

Such transmissions helped reduce U.S. mail volume 12.7% last fiscal year, even with Netflix. That's still 177.1 billion pieces of mail, half the world's volume, but down 25 billion pieces.

Without stored letters, though, historians (and many family members) would be hard-put to reconstruct many events and relationships in the past. Good luck writing those biographies come 2020 or so.

Because for so many years the post office was the average citizen's closest contact with government, it was often derided as inefficient and politically corrupt much as, well, Congress is today. The kind of institution that would print a mistake like the 1918 one above.

In 1982, the post office accepted its last public service subsidy. But according to Potter, the service faces a projected 10-year shortfall of $238 billion, which seemed like a lot of money until the last year or so. 

Potter estimates he could save about $40 billion by whacking Saturday service. Canada dropped Saturday deliveries decades ago and it's still, uh, Canada.

Such a weekend cutback proposal has arrived in the U.S. every 10 years or so since 1957. That's when, you all will remember, deliveries were stopped for one solitary Saturday, causing such an outcry that six-day service was restored by Congress come Monday.

The Postal Service has cut employment from more than 700,000 to about 600,000 currently through retirement incentives and attrition, 40,000 last year alone. Under its union contracts layoffs are not permitted. The postal workers union, you will be shocked to learn, opposes deleting Saturday delivery, obviously because it provides a rationale for more employee attrition.

Killing Saturdays would be the first day's reduction since 1913, when Sunday deliveries were halted. People would probably get used to it though, just like they did in 1950 when -- no joke here -- the post office cut home mail delivery from twice a day to once.

How would you vote this time? Use stamp-free comments below.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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