I read a recent opinion piece in the The Washington Post about the U.S. Postal Service and the fact that no one can seem to figure out what to do to either make it a viable entity or replace it entirely.
A few interesting numbers in that story:
USPS’s 574,000 employees trails only Wal-Mart among civilian employers
Its more than 215,000 vehicles (the world’s largest fleet) travel 1.25 billion miles and use nearly 400 million gallons of fuel a year
Total mail volume of 213 billion in 2006 dropped to 171 billion in 2010, with stamped mail declining 47% in the last decade
Beyond the numbers is the more troubling stance of the American Postal Workers Union, which would prefer to close its eyes rather than face reality:
On its Web site, the American Postal Workers Union disputes the notion that “hard-copy mail is destined to be replaced by electronic messages.” Mail volume was down, it says, because its principal component — advertising — had fallen in the recession. “As the nation and the world emerge from economic stagnation, hard-copy mail volume will expand,” it asserts. But that, of course, ignores the rise of the Internet, and its ever-growing use for checking bills or sending payments — with no need for that army of 500,000.
The Internet can’t be used to tele-transport packages, of course, and our use of package delivery services, including the Postal Service’s, has grown with e-commerce. But the Postal Service is running large deficits, bumping up against the $15 billion limit it is permitted to borrow, and is on the brink of default unless Congress comes to the rescue.
Is this where the Postal Service wants to make its stand, as a package delivery service, one among several providers? Does anyone really care whether the Postal Service or U.P.S. drops the package at the doorstep?
Interesting report from PR Daily about Wal-Mart’s new venture into social media. While Facebook and Twitter are currently tools of commerce for some businesses, it seems Wal-Mart expects the platform to become an even bigger force for sales:
Walmart and social media?
It seems an unlikely pairing, but the retail giant has signed an agreement to purchase Mountain View, Calif.-based social media startup Kosmix for a cool $300 million.
Founders Venky Harinarayan and Anand Rajaraman and the Kosmix team will operate as part of the new @WalmartLabs and continue to be based in Silicon Valley.
According to a press release, Walmart plans to expand @WalmartLabs. I imagine it will be tasked with Walmart’s cache of discounted products, available for purchase via every piece of Internet-accessible hardware on the planet.
“The bottom line is that social commerce is starting to turn into a reality. People are turning to social networks more and more to decide on what to buy, and the businesses who are on the forefront of that trend will reap a windfall.”
Awesome. Now I’ll have official Facebook confirmation that my friend’s mom likes tchotchkes, Americana art, and cute outfits for her dog.
A recent New York Times article reported that Wal-Mart will begin working with various educational institutions to help its associates earn college credit. The announcement was made in front of 4,000 invited employees last week at its on-campus arena on Wal-Mart’s Arkansas headquarters. Here are some key points:
The university will offer eligible employees 15 percent price reductions on tuition, and Wal-Mart will invest $50 million over three years in other tuition assistance for the employees who participate.
The partnership with American Public University, a for-profit school with about 70,000 online students, will allow some Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club employees to earn credits in areas like retail management and logistics for performing their regular jobs.
Wal-Mart estimates that about 50 percent of its employees in the United States have a high school diploma or the equivalent but have not earned a college degree. With the average full-time employee being paid $11.75 an hour, it was unclear how many of them will be able to take advantage of the new program.
The program will initially allow about 200,000 employees in positions like cashier, department manager and distribution center unloader to accrue credits for training they already receive in their jobs.
With the work credits and tuition discount, an associate’s degree for a Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club cashier would cost about $11,700 and a bachelor’s degree about $24,000.
Wal-Mart executives said it decided to work with an online university instead of a brick-and-mortar school after surveying more than 32,000 of its employees and learning that most of them wanted the scheduling flexibility afforded by online classes.
A brief but to-the-point column from Governing’s Christopher Swope attempts to inject some reality into the green jobs discussion. He notes that while it makes for admirable rhetoric to tout "green jobs," one must look deeper than a label to determine if a green job is actually green:
Suddenly, everyone is talking about "green jobs." Task forces in Connecticut, Minnesota and New Mexico, among other states, are looking at how to attract, create and retain them. Meanwhile, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has been trumpeting a report predicting 4.2 million new green jobs over the next 30 years.
That sounds nice. But what exactly is a green job? It’s a maddeningly difficult question to answer. There’s more hype than there is good research on the subject, and just about any claim anyone wants to make seems to stick.
That’s unfortunate. Because throwing around wild numbers masks where the real economic opportunities are. For example, manufacturing and installing wind turbines would create brand-new job markets in a country that never really has had much of a wind-power industry. But most of the jobs that get labelled "green" these days are positions that already exist and bear only tangential relationships to the environment. A study done for the state of Colorado counts some Wal-Mart employees as green, because a percentage of the products the retailer sells are Energy Star-certified. Cashiers, janitors, accountants, secretaries, lawyers, even government officials — all can be "green workers" if their work touches energy efficiency in almost any way.
Not that using less electricity and putting people to work aren’t worthy goals. But rather than chasing buzzwords, policy makers should recruit specific industries that have realistic chances of success in their states. When you dig into the numbers being touted on green jobs, you find a lot fewer photovoltaic specialists and geothermal engineers — and a lot more cashiers and truck drivers — than you may want.