LEXINGTON, Ky. — More post offices have closed in Kentucky since 2007 than in any other state in America. Out of 1,600 post offices closed during that time, 109 have been in Kentucky.

What You Need To Know

  • Rural post offices hit hardest

  • Trend aligns with decreasing population and businesses

  • USPS not supported by taxpayer money

  • Talks of downsizing and privatization fuel rumors of more closings

Many closed post offices have been in small, rural towns in Appalachian Kentucky that have suffered decades of business loss. Rural post offices that remain open, such as the one in Paint Lick in Garrard County, are struggling and are almost always the subject of rumors about impending closures.

Graham Ambrose, of the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting in Louisville, wrote an article recently about the disappearance of the state’s rural post offices. Ambrose said the closures, while typically in rural towns, have hit every region of the state.

“What’s lost is a beloved institution and last public commons in communities with few, if any, public spaces left,” Ambrose said. “Most of the Kentucky towns that have lost a post office are rural, unincorporated, and losing people. Disproportionately poor and elderly, they’re places where vital services are already difficult to access and where high-paying jobs can be hard to find.”

Ambrose said the shuttering of post offices in Kentucky could, in part, be attributed to policymakers targeting rural mail delivery for privatization, restructuring, or downsizing even though a Pew Research Center opinion poll this past March found 91 percent of Democrats and Republicans had a favorable view of the USPS, making it one of the more trusted government agencies. Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said in August the United States Postal Service should save money by cutting jobs and reducing rural delivery. President Trump recently opposed an emergency bailout for the USPS and efforts to expand mail-in voting in the November election. 

“Rural Kentuckians are paying attention,” Ambrose said. “The USPS delivers mail to every address in the state, providing prescription medicine, Social Security Checks, and correspondence to the most remote homes not reached by private carriers.”

Ambrose recalled a conversation he had with a 74-year-old Army veteran who receives his medication by mail. That delivery, which usually took around 18 days, took about five weeks to arrive this summer. Those rallying behind the USPS also say rural post office closures and service reductions undermine something more basic: local autonomy and identity, Ambrose said.

Kentucky has one of the highest rates in the country of people over age 65 that live in rural areas and one of the highest rates in the country of poverty among older Americans. 

“The loss of a post office can signal a community in decline,” Ambrose said. “Most towns that have lost their post office also are losing residents and businesses.”

While Kentucky leads the nation in closed post offices since 2007, other rural states have also seen a flurry of closings during that time, with 106 post offices closing in Pennsylvania, 100 in Iowa and 95 in West Virginia.

The Postal Service workforce is also getting smaller. USPS employed roughly 800,000 career workers in 1999 and only 500,000 in 2019, which is a 37 percent decrease, according to USPS data. In Kentucky, the number of postal workers has dropped about 8 percent over the last decade, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The decline in Postal Service jobs is a particular crisis in rural communities, where government mail service is most essential and where delivering mail has cleared a reliable path into the middle class,” Ambrose said. “The USPS faces big challenges. Due to the ubiquity of email and social media, the emergence of competitor online retailers such as Amazon, and a 2006 law requiring the Postal Service to pre-fund its retiree benefits program, mail volume is dwindling while USPS debts mount.”

Ambrose reported in the third quarter of FY20, the USPS reported a net loss of $2.2 billion, nearly matching the $2.3 billion net loss in the same quarter this past year. 

The Postal Service, one of the oldest government services, was established in Article I of the U.S. Constitution. The first post office in the present-day borders of Kentucky was opened in 1792 in Danville. A self-supporting government enterprise, the USPS is the only delivery service that reaches every address in the nation. The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products, and services to fund its operations. With more than 30,000 retail locations and the most frequently visited website in the federal government, usps.com, the Postal Service has an annual revenue of more than $65 billion and delivers nearly 40 percent of the world’s mail.

Steve Hutkins is a retired English professor from New York and a post office enthusiast. He is the creator and editor of savethepostoffice.com, which provides information about post office closings, suspensions, and consolidations; the historic post office buildings that are being sold; and the fight to preserve the people’s post office. The website also examines topics such as the Postal Service’s finances, court cases involving the USPS, and the efforts to privatize the postal system.

“Of the 1,600 completed and pending discontinuances, nearly 1,000 — 62 percent — involved an emergency suspension,” Hutkins said. “An annual compliance review suspension list provided information about the cause for the suspension in 534 cases – 252 suspensions (47 percent) were caused by a problem renewing the lease; 122 (22 percent) were caused by safety issues; 99 (19 percent) were caused by problems staffing the office; and 64 (12 percent) were caused by damage to the building. The lease issues have been the most contentious. Many communities and post office lessors have felt that the Postal Service deliberately created an issue over renewing the lease simply to justify closing the post office. The staff issues are also problematic since they’re typically within the Postal Service’s control.”

Hutkins said the list of 1,600 closings contains many post offices that were closed for emergency suspensions, but had not yet closed permanently. Most of the suspensions led to permanent closings, but not all of them.