Dedham is hardly alone in its dependence on the Postal Service. Some of the nation’s poorest communities, many of them with spotty broadband Internet coverage, stand to suffer most if the struggling agency moves ahead with plans to shutter thousands of post offices this year, a Reuters analysis found. Nearly 80 percent of the 3,830 post offices under consideration are in sparsely populated rural areas where poverty rates are higher than the national average.
Moreover, about one-third of the offices slated for closure fall in areas with limited or no wired broadband Internet.
“We’re not the ones in the big cities who are just e-mailing everything to everybody. We’re the ones that are actually still sending our Christmas cards and our birthday cards,” said Sarah Clyden, who runs a feed store in Oakwood, Okla., where the agency is considering closing the post office.
Federal law requires the Postal Service to provide “a maximum degree of effective and regular postal services” to rural areas and small towns. Today, with 32,000 retail locations and 150 million delivery points, the Postal Service has a larger footprint in the United States than McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wal-Mart combined, according to its Web site.
Even so, the rise of e-mail, a drop-off in first-class mail, onerous labor costs and the growth of shippers such as UPS and FedEx have left the Postal Service hemorrhaging money. By fall, postal officials have warned, they might not be able to borrow money.
The Postal Service is not studying the economic impact on communities where post offices are slated to close, spokesman David Partenheimer said. But in the 3,004 rural areas across 48 states where post offices might close, many residents fear the impact will be pronounced.
About 2.9 million people live in the rural communities where a post office that might close is the only one or one of two serving their Zip code. For many rural residents, that would translate into longer drives to mail packages, pay bills or buy stamps.
Like all the post offices on the closure lists, the post offices in Dedham and Oakwood wouldn’t close until mid-May, thanks to a temporary moratorium on closings put in place in December. It was intended to give Congress a window to pass legislation offering the Postal Service some relief. But with lawmakers still deeply divided over how to address the Postal Service’s financial woes, state and local government officials worry thousands of closings are on the way.
“The Postal Service is supposed to be a universal service available to people wherever they live in America,” said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R), who pushed hard for the moratorium. “What they’re doing is going against that premise.”