The scales of global commerce tipped in favor of the United States late last year, driven by dramatic improvement in America’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for foreign oil.
According to the Commerce Department, America’s cavernous trade deficit narrowed more than 20 percent in December to $38.6 billion…its best showing in nearly three years.
U.S. exports rose more than 2 percent to $186 billion. The improvement was paced by strong foreign demand for American-made aircraft and agricultural goods. And in a development boding well for the future, U.S. exports of oil and other petroleum products rose to an all-time high.
Imports shrank nearly 3 percent to $225 billion. Crude oil shipments into America plunged to 223 billion barrels in December. That’s the lowest level of oil imports in more than 15 years.
A smaller trade deficit bodes well for the economy because it indicates U.S. consumers spent less on foreign products, while American companies earned more from sales overseas. But some businesses continue to struggle. And that was readily apparent this week when the Postal Service announced plans to end Saturday deliveries.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds...except on Saturdays. In a cost-cutting measure that is expected to save $2 billion annually, the U.S. Postal Service will cut Saturday delivery of mail.
Founded before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the agency has been suffering over the past few years due to increasing costs and decreasing volume of first class mail.
Pat Donohoe, Postmaster General: “...we have a $20 billion gap to close. We’re striving to raise revenue, reduce costs and gain efficiencies throughout the entire organization. And making this change to our delivery schedule is a big ticket item and it is simply too big of a cost savings to ignore. In fact, I would strongly argue it would be irresponsible for the Post Office not to pursue this course.”
According to Postmaster General Donohoe, single piece mail delivery has declined 20 percent since 2010 and the agency is losing $25 million dollars per day. However, the Postal Service is experiencing a 14 percent increase in package delivery and it will continue the service six days per week.
The agency receives no tax dollars and is funded solely through the sales of postage stamps. Last year, the Postal Service lost $15.9 billion including $11.1 billion in payments to retirees. Because of the shortfall, the agency had to default on the pension payments.
Since 2006, the agency reduced its work force by 193,000 through attrition and retirements. It also consolidated 200 mail-processing facilities, eliminated 21,000 delivery routes, and reduced hours of operation in 9,000 post offices across the country.
While proposed changes for the Postal Service require Congressional approval, Donahoe believes the move is legal under the continuing budget resolution which expires March 27. Reaction from Capitol Hill has been low key with a few lawmakers supporting the move and one expressing concern over the potentially negative impact on his rural constituents.
Donahoe is confident any differences can be worked out over the next month. And, according to a recent poll cited by the Postmaster General, 70 percent of Americans have no problem with a one-day reduction in service.
However, reaction from some rural Americans ranged from resignation to concern.
Jeanette Dwyer, National Rural Letter Carrier's Assoc.: "The American public wants to receive their mail 6 days a week, and if they cannot get it from the USPS other companies will venture out and do that. They will get it somewhere.
"People still believe, still trust as long as their mail is coming that the America we live in today is safe and secure."
While others believe most deliveries can wait until Monday, some senior citizens are concerned they could be left waiting for important mail, like social security checks.
Alice Durhan, Evergreen Park, Illinois: "I guess we're going to have to get all of our information from the Internet, so I don't know how that's going to work out. I'll see."
Officials with the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Nebraska also are concerned about the impact on seniors and rural businesses. They are encouraged that package delivery will continue without interruption but voiced some apprehension over whether this was an indication rural mail services might be further reduced in the future.
The final day of Saturday letter service is slated for August 3rd.