|The subject of the story runs his route in the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona. (Photo by Daniel Månsson)|
That's the teaser for a story by Ellice Lueders in The Economist's 1843 magazine about her uncle, whom she calls Guy to protect his identity. U.S. Postal Service folks aren't supposed to talk about their work, so the story is a rare incisive glimpse into the lives of postal-route contractors, who serve rural routes on which the USPS doesn't want to spend health-insurance and pension money.
"He is paid the same rate no matter how long his delivery round takes," Lueders writes. "In recent years the amount he is obliged to deliver each day has increased significantly, meaning he has to spend even longer hours on the road. Lately every day has been 'worse than Christmas' as he struggles to cope with increased numbers of election advertisements, as well as parcels ordered by those wary of leaving their houses because of the pandemic. The USPS has never been more necessary or so thinly stretched."
Early on, Lueders tells family and marital history to get to a point: "The Postal Service, for the men in Guy’s family and many others across America, offers a career path for those without other options. . . . So, on every day but Sunday, Guy drives a minimum of 87 miles and delivers around 180 parcels to rural post offices and the homes that lie between them."
The Postal Service has made up for the decline in first-class mail with more parcel deliveries, "but in low-income areas such as the one Guy serves [customers] cannot afford to buy much stuff. In order to make up for the dearth of first-class mail, the Postal Service has doubled down on providing marketing circulars for businesses. Every day Guy sorts and delivers thousands of pieces of junk mail. Most people discard these before reading them, but sorting it takes up the majority of his time."
Leuders concludes, "With the election looming, Americans everywhere are depending on people like Guy to save their country, whichever way they are considering voting. For Guy, though, the future won’t change. He has no retirement savings. He confesses to me that he might work the route until the day he dies. He probably will."