Select parts of the article. Interesting things in bold.
How did the country's second largest employer (after Walmart), which operates the world's largest fleet of vehicles and handles 40% of the world's mail volume, arrive right at the edge of bankruptcy? A toxic combination of the bad economy, an increase in online bill paying, e-mail and other digital communication, and congressional mandates have created billion-dollar deficits for the USPS since 2007. Last year it lost $8.5 billion. Officials say the Postal Service will run out of money by next August or September, and absent congressional action, it will default on a postponed $5.5 billion retiree payment due Dec. 16, 2011.
It wouldn't be far-fetched to argue that the Postal Service has been the most important local institution in our country's history. The Founding Fathers considered it so important that they put it in the Constitution, mandating that Congress have the power to establish post offices. For decades, it was the largest public-sector employer in the U.S. At one point in the 19th century, three-quarters of all government employees were postal workers.
To this day, the last mile can be an expensive piece of road. Want to send a letter to the Havasupai Indian Reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon? The Postal Service will take it there by mule. Need to mail a package to the Alaskan wilderness? The USPS can get it there by parachute. Have to mail something to someplace along Alabama's Magnolia River? The USPS has boats that travel from dock to dock. It has even sent mail via pneumatic tubes, missiles and hovercraft. And somehow, it costs just 44 to get a letter anywhere within the U.S. (Well, 45 starting Jan. 22.)
The USPS is a quasi-governmental public utility. It's a semiautonomous organization that is only partly private.
If things weren't bad enough, the USPS is increasingly relying on junk-mail revenue which has grown significantly in the past couple of years. "I love the term junk mail," Donahoe says sarcastically. "If you work in the Postal Service, it's jobs mail. The interesting thing about that is, direct mail has probably got the best return on investment of any kind of advertisement." That means, expect even more junk mail in the future.
In the end, the debate about the USPS is simple: it's about the privatization of a service that is supposed to be universal. But universal access doesn't exactly sync with the market's guiding hand. That's why UPS and FedEx don't ship everywhere. It's just not profitable. So where do they turn for last-mile delivery? To the Postal Service. Those private mail carriers are two of the USPS's biggest customers.