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Post Office Problems for Blacks

Just as they were for the Irish and Italian immigrants of the early twentieth century, government jobs have been an important ladder to the middle class for generations of Black Americans. As one of the largest and most venerable public-sector programs, the Postal Service has long been one of the largest and most effective of these ladders. With the USPS now considering massive cuts, it will likely abdicate its role as a pathway out of urban poverty for Blacks. The Chicago Tribune discusses the change:

The U.S. Postal Service‘s announcement Monday that it plans to close 252 mail processing centers and trim 28,000 jobs to fend off possible bankruptcy is part of a growing trend of shrinking government employment opportunities. For its workforce, which is disproportionately composed of African-Americans, the news means a lot more than the prospect of slower mail delivery.

“People have raised their kids with these jobs and bought homes in the black community,” said Adrian Peeple, 42, of South Holland, who began her career as a letter carrier at Chicago’s Wicker Park station in 1995. “It’ll be a huge impact if they started laying off or cutting back on people who’ve been working here for quite a bit of their lives.”

This is unfortunate news for the Black community, but it is unavoidable; our mail system has become an expensive burden on our finances even as the importance of snail mail dwindles — junk mail now counts for nearly half of the USPS’s volume. Nor does the future offer much respite for the Black middle class — the Postal Service may be the first to go, but similar changes are coming to other government agencies as well as cities and states face shrinking budgets and diminishing tax bases. Government jobs — especially locally-based jobs such as police, teachers and firefighters — have long been the backbone of a Black middle class that is still underrepresented in the ranks of private-sector professionals.

Via Meadia has called attention to this problem before, and we will continue to follow it.  The economic changes coming to this country affect everyone, but they affect different regions, different population groups and different socio-economic levels in different ways.  The Black middle class has a bigger vested interest in government and quasi-governmental jobs (quasi-governmental jobs like medical services where government payments support the demand for services provided by private sector employers) than other groups; the political struggle over the levels and conditions of government employment can’t be separated from the politics of race.

Those, like Via Meadia who believe that the whole country urgently needs to reduce the size of public sector employment while making the public sector more efficient need to think through the consequences for current public employees.  As a matter of political practicality as well as social harmony, it’s important to make the changes work as fairly as possible for as many people as possible.

The USPS needs to shrink and perhaps disappear for the sake of the country; for the sake of the country the Black middle class like the middle class generally needs to grow.

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  • Alex Scipio

    If either party really cared about African-Americans other than as voters, they’d have addressed this problem long ago by fixing our schools so that govt civil service jobs, from which no one can ever be fired were not the only realistic way forward for minorities, who predominantly live in the inner city and so are imprisoned within Democrat-run school districts (all metro ones since 1945) and Democrat City Councils (all major metros since 1945), none of which care about anyone other than as voters – which one can see by their “anti-poverty” programs which are nothing more than “overty-assurance” programs to keep minorities on the Dem plantation.

    And if businesses cared at all about minorities, they’d be hammering all local school districts in America to up their game rather than hammering the government for more H1B visas.

  • Dennis

    I guess John Derbyshire’s advice–“Get a government job”–has become inoperative.

    After several paragraphs of handwringing, I see no proposal for getting the middle class–especially the black middle class–to grow.

    As we’ve seen, many government jobs are just another kind of stimulus that we can’t afford anymore. At the margins, USPS pay is just a tarted up form of transfer payment, never mind such inefficiencies as the high ratio of managers to workers that has persisted in the USPS over the fat years. In the lean ones, and to avoid the sort of civil unrest represented by OWS, it looks like the new normal will have to include the government bailing out what’s left of the middle class, e.g., unemployment benefit extensions, higher EITC thresholds, etc.

  • dr kill

    I’m with you, right up to ‘fairly’. My idea of fair is to let the market sort them out. What’s yours?

  • Tom Holsinger

    This is more the fault of Congres than the Post Office. Other countries let their government-run postal services diversify into providing other services as mail volume declined, to make full use of their capital facilities. Our Congress decreed, however, that the only allowable use of postal facilities was to sell postage and some packing supplies, and to collect and deliver mail and parcels.

    This had very predictable results.

  • Thrasymachus

    As Malcolm X would say, the chickens are coming home to roost. Blacks have used their loyalty to the Democratic machine and their willingness to attack anybody who opposed it as racist to get a lot of patronage. But the money just isn’t there any more, no matter how they bluster and threaten.

  • Anthony

    An academic and theoretican once said to me “the entire seventy-year social process following the mass migration and nothern urbanization of blacks since World War I created the Crisis in Black Leadership.” Further he said “it has also been a social process during which blacks, in the aggregate, have failed to master the art of cooperation, or cooperative methods of social organization. This overall failure is attributed to the nature and composition of black leadership” (I was told that 24 years ago; 24 + 70 = 94). Therein WRM lies some of the responsibility for private-sector underrepresentation – thus while government employment and civil rights victories were legitimate and necessary the central problems of black economic powerlessness in the aggregate were left to others (New Deal, Blue Model, Uplift Agencies, etc.). Essentially, the failure to recognize American capitalism (taking in consideration our ‘peculiar’ history) in its essence has been the bane of black middle class leadership – thence black govermental job crisis within national/global economic crisis.

    And I agree it is important to make changes work as fairly as possible for as many as possible.

  • Ken Marks

    I would expect one reason USPS faces this problem is that the unions have priced USPS employees out of the market, meaning that they cannot deliver the service that would justify their salaries and expensive benefits. If the union really cared about its members, it might proactively come to the table and offer up major concessions in the areas of pension and benefit reform that would allow these people to keep their jobs.

  • vanderleun

    When it comes to affirmative action jobs I’m sure that Obamacare will more than pick up the PO slack for decades to come. No retraining necessary.

  • Bill Jones

    Every year at about this time I get a card from the Post Office instructing me how to clear a path to the mailbox (of government approved design, located at a government approved location at a government approved height There will be days when my mail is not delivered. UPS meanwhile will continue to deliver to my door, or back porch if I’m not at home and there’s not yet been a day in 13 years when my (private) garbage guy hasn’t picked up the two fifty pound cans I put out every Sunday evening.

  • Richard S

    How to minimize the troubles caused by cutting back government is an important one. To the degree that economic growth will be helped by leaner, more focused government, that’s part of the answer.

    Along the lines of this post, it might be worth noting that even establishment organizations like Brookings recognize that Head Start does not work.

    That’s $7 billion per year. But what would happen to all the people emplyed by that program, directly and indirectly?

    That’s the American way, no? Chages happen, and he adjust. Charity, by friends, family, formal charities, and perhaps even by government, exists to help people through the changes.

  • Paul Kersey

    The Black Middle Class is an artificial construct entirely built upon government jobs. Its dying because of austerity measures at the federal, state, and local level:

  • Toni

    Blacks will have to learn to compete for jobs in the private sector, without civil service protections that keep the lazy and incompetent on the job. In the process, they’ll learn to get along with white employers and coworkers, and learn that whites are largely not the evil racists that Black political hacks desperately want them to continue to believe.

    What an extremely healthy development.

    Remember the Detroit situation? It strikes me that Black political hacks are the ones who want to keep blacks on the plantation — their Democratic, government-dependent plantation. When blacks integrate themselves into the private economy, the Black hack establishment will be toast.

  • Karl

    UK post office have increased prices a lot recently to fend off simialr things happening. Bit less distance to cover though!
    Costs a fortune to send Christmas cards now.

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