Postal Service layoffs will hit minorities

Working at the post office has long been a way for African-Americans and others to rise up to the middle class. But at least 35,000 USPS jobs will soon be lost.

Kai Ryssdal: The long-rumored and long-delayed shrinkage of the United States Postal Service is finally going to happen. This week, the Postal Service said it's going to close more than 250 mail processing centers around the country. It's part of a $3 billion deficit reduction plan the post office says it has to do to survive. What's not going to survive are a whole lot of post office jobs -- including a lot of minority jobs.

Gigi Douban reports from Birmingham, Ala.


Gigi Douban: These days, Nea Rice spends most of her days playing "FarmVille" on her computer. But for 22 years, she worked for the post office. Raising two kids on her own, she considered herself lucky. For African-Americans, working for the Postal Service in the 1970s was:

Nea Rice: The job to get if you could get it. It was the job to get.

That's because there were so few opportunities back then.

Rice: The only other jobs we had would be teachers and that's about it, as far as you know the black was concerned. And if you didn't have your education, you couldn't be a teacher and I didn't have the education for a teacher.

For the last few decades, the Postal Service has been a good place for minorities to work. Sally Davidow is a spokeswoman for the American Postal Workers Union.

Sally Davidow: The Postal Service has always been one of the places where African-Americans could find work because the Postal Service doesn't discriminate the way many private sector employers did in the past and unfortunately some still do today.

Davidow says the cuts announced by the Postal Service this week are "a disaster." In Alabama, three mail processing centers around the state will shut down and move here to Birmingham. Similar consolidations are happening nationwide. In the end, about 35,000 jobs will be lost.

L.D. Brown started working for the Postal Service 22 years ago. She says back then, it was an easy decision.

L.D. Brown: Now you can become a federal employee. You look at the benefits that it had to offer.

For many African-Americans, a job at the post office was a way to enter the middle class.

Brown: When I started at the Postal Service, there were many blacks and a majority of the managers were black. So upward mobility was always around.

That's part of what drew Derrick Thompson to the job. He's been delivering mail for about 10 years. Before this job, Thompson was a cop. He didn't like it. Too much sitting around, he says. Coming to work for the Postal Service was definitely a good move.

Derrick Thompson: It's a lot better. I've been able to make it a lot better than what I would have as a police officer.

Douban: Money-wise?

Thompson: Money-wise, yeah. And benefits-wise and everything else.

And even with the shakeup, he has no plans to start looking for another job.

Thompson: This is where I intend to stay, unless of course I don't have a choice.

In Birmingham, I'm Gigi Douban for Marketplace.

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