Rural post offices and mail carriers connect our smallest towns to the world and provide a sense of community. But a burdensome financial structure, and lack of federal aid amid a pandemic, threaten their future.
When President George Washington signed into law the Postal Service Act of 1792, thereby establishing the United States Post Office Department, the population was overwhelmingly rural and agricultural. Soon, though, the Industrial Revolution changed our relationship to the land. Today, four out of five Americans live in cities. (This is the tumultuous history of the U.S. Postal Service.)
But while we are a mostly urban people, we are a mostly rural place. Rural areas still cover 97 percent of our geography. From the fertile soils of the Black Belt to the unpaved roads of Native American reservations, from the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the Midwestern prairie that I now see from my window, the United States is not just a country. It’s country.
Amid that vast space is the pervasive miracle of 46 million rural mailboxes.