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Nation caught in vicious economic cycle

Scanning through national newspaper headlines Friday morning, one in the Washington Post jumped out at me.

“Postal Service proposes cutting 120,000 jobs, pulling out of health care plan.”

With my interest piqued, I started reading through a story that raised a number of important questions as well as shined a light on the double-edged economic sword our nation faces.

Our government is living way beyond its means and has been for decades.

The problem is that the primary meaningful way to cut expenses is to trim payroll, which cuts jobs, drives more people to government-funded programs like unemployment and, in turn, keeps our sluggish economy mired in mud and diminishes the taxes to run the government in the first place.

It is a Catch-22 — sort of a rock and a hard place for those who have never read the classic novel by Joseph Heller.

The first point from the article that may push people to think is the fact that the U.S. Postal Service proposed cutting its workforce by 20 percent, which means it would have to break union labor agreements to do so.

This is something that should never be taken lightly, but it is hard to argue with the fact that the Postal Service doesn’t play near the role in our society that it did years ago.

This can be attributed to other shipping services, technological advances such as e-mail, text and low cell phone rates, and just the overall perception that the USPS doesn’t provide the same level of service it once did.

According to statistics in the Washington Post article, the USPS has lost $20 billion over the past four years including more than 8 billion last fiscal year alone. The mail volume has dropped by 20 percent.

So, it is clear that something has to be done. But what?

It is certainly a double-edged sword to propose cutting more than 120,000 jobs at a time when the economy continues to struggle and unemployment rates are dangerously high.

On the other hand, taxpayers shouldn’t be asked to subsidize an agency that is larger than it needs to be.

No one should have to lose his or her job right now, but it may be an unfortunate side effect of years of overgrowth.

Ultimately, taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to shell out more of their hard-earned money just to keep people employed in government jobs that offer better wages and benefits than the ones held by the taxpayer him or herself.

Another interesting point is that the Postal Service is seeking to remove 480,000 retirees and 600,000 current employees from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, essentially saying they can provide comparable benefits at a much lower cost than the federal government’s plan.

This is certainly concerning considering the federal government seems to think it can administer health care for the entire country.

If it cannot do so efficiently for one of its own small agencies, how can we logically expect that to work for the whole nation?

The challenges facing the USPS are indicative of the larger issues facing our federal government as a whole, and state and local governments as well but to a lesser degree.

Something has to be done now to at least ensure the wounds from the proverbial sword are treatable. Doing nothing will lead to terminal injuries our economy and our government won’t easily be able to survive.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com.