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Series Overview: Snail Mail Struggles

Even before Americans had a country, they had a post office. Since its creation in 1775, the post office has been delivering mail and helping knit together a sprawling nation.

But today, the U.S. Postal Service is struggling as its customers migrate to the digital world. Americans are texting, e-mailing, faxing and networking instead of mailing each other paper greetings and documents. As a result, the USPS is seeing its business model crumble. Earlier this month, it reported an $8.5 billion loss in the fiscal year that ended in September.

This week, an NPR series explores the importance of the post office and considers what changes may be coming.

Next-Gen E-Cards. In the coming days, Americans will start mailing out holiday greetings -- or e-mailing them, that is. Internet greetings are one of the reasons the Postal Service is in big trouble. These days, e-cards aren't just a lazy person's greeting. They've gained respectability. And they're no longer simply e-mailed, either. E-card makers are integrating greetings with social networks, and notes that used to be between two people now are out in public for all to see. How does that change their meaning? Alexandra Schmidt looks into the new ways we keep in touch.

African-Americans and the USPS. Residents of a largely black neighborhood in East Cleveland staged a protest this summer to try to keep the post office open. In the end, it remained open with a skeleton crew. One of the protest organizers is the daughter of a veteran mail carrier, and she says the USPS has been an important route to the middle class for people in her community. WCPN's Mhari Saito looks at the USPS's role in an urban area.

Rural Americans and the USPS. Post offices play a key role in rural America. They are not only important sources of jobs and revenue, but they're also often social centers -- social gathering spots in places where they may only be a few establishments linking a community together. What happens when a rural town loses its post office? Noah Adams, son of a Kentucky mail carrier, reports.

So Long,Saturday Delivery. The USPS is hoping to save billions by dropping Saturday delivery. If most of what we get is junk mail, why not reduce delivery to three days a week, and save even more money? With UPS and FedEx serving our needs so well, and with bills and holiday greetings going electronic, do we need the USPS at all? NPR's Mandalit del Barco asks the uncomfortable questions.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Marilyn Geewax is a contributor to NPR.