Residents of Paint Lick do not like to dwell on what’s been lost: the grocery retailers, the gas station, the barbershop, the regional bank, and numerous residents who have moved away or died.
As an alternative, in this rural Appalachian town in Garrard County suffering decades of business enterprise loss, residents have championed an attitude that is grow to be one thing of a civic slogan: “Press on regardless,” in the words of a lengthy-departed regional leader, Dean Cornett.
What presses on are the handful of institutions that stay: a doctor’s workplace, an environmental consultancy, an auto mechanic, and what may well be the most crucial institution of all—the post workplace.
“The mail is just crucial to people out in a rural neighborhood,” mentioned Joe Brown, a lifelong resident of Paint Lick.
But Paint Lick’s post workplace is struggling. It is now open just two hours a day for retail, and rumors have been swirling for years it will close. Brown mentioned he’s thankful the post workplace is nonetheless open at all.
Kentucky’s rural post offices are threatened. More than the final decade, much more post offices have been closed in Kentucky than in any other state, according to information from the U.S. Postal Service. Closures have hit each area, from coal towns in Appalachia to villages in the open fields of the Jackson Buy.
What’s lost is a beloved institution and final public commons in communities with handful of if any public spaces left.
“The post workplace is a gathering spot. It is a hub for regional data exchange,” mentioned Ken Tunnell, a Paint Lick resident and sociologist who taught at Eastern Kentucky University.
Most of the Kentucky towns that have lost a post workplace are rural, unincorporated, and losing persons. Disproportionately poor and elderly, they’re locations exactly where crucial solutions are currently tough to access and exactly where higher-paying jobs can be difficult to obtain.
For years, conservative policymakers have targeted rural mail delivery for privatization, restructuring, or downsizing. The fight ramped up final month when U.S. Sen. Rand Paul mentioned the Postal Service need to save revenue by slashing jobs and decreasing rural delivery. President Donald Trump has opposed an emergency USPS bailout and efforts to expand mail-balloting in the November election.
Rural Kentuckians are paying consideration. The USPS delivers mail to each address in the state, giving prescription medicine, Social Safety Checks, and correspondence to the most remote residences not reached by private carriers.
Mail delays can be risky. Brown, 74, is an Army veteran who relies on the U.S. Postal Service to provide medication. This summer season, medicine that ordinarily arrives in 18 days took 5 weeks to arrive.
These rallying behind the USPS also say rural post workplace closures and service reductions undermine one thing much more standard: regional autonomy and identity.
“Part of the pride of the neighborhood in that you have a post workplace,” mentioned Brown. “In our tiny village of Paint Lick, it’d be one more devastating blow if the post workplace had been no longer there.”
Trusted in rural Kentucky
The Postal Service is a single of the oldest government solutions, enshrined in Short article I of the U.S. Constitution. The 1st post workplace in the present-day borders of Kentucky was opened in Danville, in 1792.
Nowadays Americans regularly price the Postal Service to be a single of the most trusted government agencies. The assistance is bipartisan. A public opinion poll performed by Pew Study Center in March identified an overwhelming 91% of each Democrats and Republicans had a favorable view of the Postal Service.
Katie Rollins knows that trust firsthand. She worked for 12 years at the post workplace in Paint Lick, her adopted hometown. Residents nonetheless trust her with confidential tasks.
When a single elderly Paint Lick resident necessary money to send her good-granddaughter a birthday present, she recruited Rollins to assistance. The two had been strangers, but the elderly lady trusted Rollins to withdraw revenue from her bank account, unsupervised, due to the fact she knew Rollins had worked at the post workplace.
“I was like a social worker to these persons,” Rollins mentioned.
The post workplace is exactly where the oft-anonymous government bureaucracy gets a human face. As a post workplace employee, Rollins mentioned she frequently assisted adults who necessary assistance drafting letters, filling out government types, or writing checks. Other people had been in poor wellness and couldn’t sign their personal name, let alone hold a pen.
In Kentucky, practically half of all persons older than 65 reside in rural locations. That is a single of the highest prices in the nation. Kentucky also claims a single of the highest prices of poverty for older Americans.
“These elderly persons down right here do not have anyone,” Rollins mentioned. “They need to have that post workplace.”
The post workplace types a core component of rural history, especially in Appalachian coal nation.
Far more than a century ago, when permanent settlements created about Kentucky’s coal mines, records had been frequently lost or not kept in the 1st spot.
But there was a single date that was each properly-documented and properly-accepted to imply a neighborhood was on the map: the date its post workplace was established.
“We tag the history of a lot of these tiny locations by when the post workplace was established, due to the fact we do not have records of when the 1st ton of coal was brought out, or when the 1st persons had been settled,” explained Ken Martis, a professor emeritus of geography at West Virginia University. “The post workplace was a fantastic marker of the historical establishment of a spot.”
The loss of a post workplace can signal the opposite: a neighborhood in decline. Most towns that have lost their post workplace also are losing residents and firms.
Two decades of challenges for USPS
Mount Eden, a compact unincorporated town in rural Spencer County, lost its post workplace in 2017, according to USPS. The developing is now residence to a maker of headstones and monuments.
Residents miss the comfort of a regional post workplace. They have to travel ten miles to Waddy, the subsequent-closest post workplace. But they nonetheless get residence mail delivery six days a week, an critical if imperfect service. Longtime Mount Eden residents mentioned there are occasional service delays as properly as higher prices of carrier turnover.
“As far as our mail service, they’re really spotty,” mentioned resident Chris Hensley. Component of the difficulty is that the rural carriers are overworked, he added.
Mount Eden’s post workplace was a single of 699 shuttered nationwide amongst 2010 and 2020, according to USPS information. Kentucky was hit hardest.
The 62 offices closed in the Bluegrass State signifies a single in each 11 discontinued post offices was in Kentucky. West Virginia’s 54 closed offices ranked second, although Pennsylvania’s 52 came in third.
The Postal Service workforce is shrinking, also. In 1999, USPS employed roughly 800,000 profession workers, according to USPS information. Twenty years later, that figure had fallen to 500,000, a 37% reduce.
In Kentucky, the quantity of postal workers has dropped about eight% more than the final decade, according to information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The decline in Postal Service jobs is a certain crisis in rural communities, exactly where government mail service is most critical and exactly where delivering mail has cleared a trusted path into the middle class.
“Especially in rural locations, exactly where jobs are tougher to come by that are not just minimum wage, persons really feel definitely fortunate to get a job like it,” mentioned Silas Property, a Lexington-primarily based writer who worked as a mail carrier in rural Laurel County in the early 2000s.
Property, who lately defended rural mail service in an essay for The Atlantic, mentioned the job was “incredibly difficult,” involving lengthy days on his feet, uncooperative climate, and tough terrain in the mountains of Appalachia. He had a gun pulled on him twice. However the perform remains critical, he mentioned.
“A lot of these locations do not have UPS or FedEx, or these solutions are a great deal much more pricey,” Property mentioned. “My service was a genuine lifeline in a lot of techniques for the persons in the really rural locations.”
The USPS faces large challenges. Due to the ubiquity of e mail and social media, the emergence of competitor on-line retailers such as Amazon, and a 2006 law requiring the Postal Service to pre-fund its retiree rewards plan, mail volume is dwindling although USPS debts mount.
In the third quarter of FY20, USPS reported a net loss of $two.two billion, practically matching the $two.three billion net loss in the similar quarter final year. In addition to attacking voting by mail, Trump has mentioned he opposes a USPS bailout. Final week, Sen. Paul, a Kentucky Republican, mentioned cutting a single day of rural service would save up to $1.five billion. He also recommended decreasing rural delivery to as handful of as two days a week.
But advocates of rural delivery emphasize that the worth of the Postal Service shouldn’t be lowered to a price-advantage evaluation.
“The Postal Service is not a business enterprise. It is a government service,” mentioned Stan Brunn, a professor emeritus of geography at the University of Kentucky who grew up in the rural Midwest. “It’s made to serve everyone. It is not just serving particular clientele.”
A USPS spokesperson primarily based in Kentucky mentioned there are at the moment no plans to close post offices.
As states and counties prepare for unprecedented numbers of voters to participate in the November election by mail, some have accused the Trump administration of sabotaging the USPS as a way to undercut Democrats. In a Congressional hearing earlier this month, Postmaster Common Louis DeJoy was grilled by lawmakers more than his choice to reduce some employee overtime and eliminate sorting machines. DeJoy told senators delivering election mail was a “sacred duty” that the USPS would fulfill “securely and on time.”
Final week, residents of Inez, a compact Appalachian town in Martin County, staged a protest against Robert “Mike” Duncan, chairman of the USPS board of governors and a buddy of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Protester Mickey McCoy mentioned Duncan was “slowing down the post office” to advantage Trump.
With so a lot of residents of Martin County living in rural locations at or beneath the poverty level, “this is like a kick in the nuts to all of them for slowing down the Postal Service,” mentioned McCoy, a retired English teacher who serves on the county board of education.
Caught in the middle of the politics are rural Americans, who reside in communities exactly where political frustrations are currently palpable.
“This is just one more assault on persons and communities that in a lot of instances really feel abandoned currently,” mentioned Shane Barton, an financial developer at the University of Kentucky and candidate for Berea City Council. A ninth-generation resident of Appalachia, Barton mentioned the Postal Service strengthens “mountain values” such as resilience and neighborliness. “However huge or compact that post workplace is, it delivers a public advantage.”
Information from the U.S. Postal Service shows mail service functionality, a measurement of delivery and processing occasions compared to expectations, declined in July.
Kentucky ranks in the bottom ten states in per-capita mail sorters, processors, and processing machine operators, according to BLS information. That is a single of various issues for the November election.
In Kentucky, any voter who desires an absentee ballot can request a single at GoVoteKy.com, and state officials have authorized a strategy by means of which any voter concerned about the spread of COVID-19 can cast an absentee ballot and vote by mail.
Ballots should be postmarked by Election Day — Tuesday, Nov. three — and received by county clerks by Nov. six in order to count. The 3-day cushion immediately after Election Day could assistance mitigate some difficulties with mail delays.
To make certain the integrity of the mail technique in the compact towns exactly where post offices are nonetheless open, residents say it is paramount they remain open.
When asked what the closure of the Paint Lick post workplace would imply for the town, Rollins refused to contemplate the possibility. She and the rest of her adopted town strategy to press on regardless of obstacles.
“It will not close in Paint Lick, Ky. We will quit it,” she mentioned. “We’re going to strive, no matter what. We have persons down right here who care.”
Graham Ambrose is an investigative reporter covering social solutions and youth difficulties. He is a Report for America Corps member. Get in touch with Graham at [email protected]