The US Postal Service handles over 150 billion pieces of mail each year, which is about 47% of all mail sent in the world. But it has faced financial troubles for years, in part because it is caught in a political vice of that limits its flexibility to make adjustments that could trim costs, and in part because the internet has taken a bite out of mail service. The Office of the Inspector General of the US Postal Service describes some trends in \”What’s up with Mail? How Mail Use Is Changing across the United States\” (RARC-WP-17-006. April 17, 2017).

Here are volumes of mail-sent-per-adult for three categories that make up over 90 percent of the volume of what is delivered by the USPS: single-piece first class mail, first-class mail presorted, and marketing mail.

Single-piece first-class mail per adult started dropping in 1996, and has fallen by 70% since then.

First-class mail in the presorted category (which is more likely to be mailings sent by firms or government to consumers) continued to rise up until the Great Recession, but has declined by about one-third since then. .

Marketing mail dropped in the Great Recession, and is now down by more than one-quarter from 2007 levels, but its decline has been much smaller in recent years. As the report notes: \”Marketing Mail is also playing an increasingly prominent role in the Postal Service’s product portfolio. At approximately 80 billion pieces, Marketing Mail volume is higher than FCM-SP and FCM-Presort combined. In 2015, it made up about 52 percent of total mail volume.\”

In part, I find these patterns interesting as a reflection of how America communicates, and how the ease and convenience of web-based communication has affected the postal service. 

But in addition, the report notes that the rate of decline in mail use seems to have slowed in the last few years. I\’ve written in the past about steps that the US Postal Service could take to improve its financial outlook,  and I won\’t repeat that here. After all, the possibilities for innovative change at the Postal Service have been strangled by political infighting which led to a situation in which, by the end of 2016 and since then, none of the nine appointed slots on the Board of Governors of the Postal Service are filled. 

But if the quantity of these core lines of the mail business are not falling as fast, while \”packages have become an increasingly prominent product for the Postal Service, with volume growing 68 percent to 5.2 billion pieces between 2009 and 2016,\” it becomes more feasible to think about how to restructure and right-size the Postal Service in a sensible way.

Leave a Reply