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Forever never more

Forever stamps were introduced by the U.S. Postal Service in 2007 as a convenience for customers subjected to price increases of first-class postage. Before that time, mail users needed to purchase 1-, 2- or 3-cent stamps whenever prices went up.

USPS apparently was forewarning the nation price hikes were going to become a regular staple. Indeed, since the Forever stamp's arrival, the cost has increased five times. Make it six come Jan. 26. That's when it will be 49 cents to send a letter.

The independent Postal Regulatory Commission approved the new price last month, although it is supposed to be in effect for only two years. It is seen as a temporary revenue-builder to help overcome the economic downturn of 2008.

As an entity, the Post Office is accustomed to losing billions of dollars every year. Since 2006, when Congress began forcing the Postal Service to set aside $5.6 billion annually to cover health benefits for future retirees, the institution has been in dire straits. Throw in all the consequences of an expansive Internet, and regular price increases for postage seem inevitable. Forever stamp prices are averaging a little more than one year in duration.

Increased postage costs are not anything new, however. Think of the typical letter-writer today: It's certainly not a young adult, what with emails and text messaging so popular.

It's more likely to be a 65-year-old with lifelong habits. That individual has seen 22 price hikes already. The 23rd later this month will make the overall increase 1,533 percent -- from 3 cents to 49 cents. Calculating for inflation, that 3 cents should only be approximately 29 cents today.

Even with postage almost doubling the Consumer Price Index, we don't anticipate the U.S. Postal Service ever going away. There is an institutional efficiency of moving items from point A to B that is irreplaceable. There also remains strong community attachments to each post office in the country, no matter how small.

USPS will continue pursuing various avenues to improve its financial position. Lobbying efforts will continue in hopes of ending the funding of future benefits, as well as ending Saturday delivery. It will continue to cut potentially bad side deals with mass mailers that will help undercut other industries. Office closures and layoffs will continue to be suggested, then rejected.

And the price of the first-class postage will continue to rise. Nothing lasts forever, but especially the cost of a Forever stamp.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net