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We mailed one hundred letters to test the postal service (wgbh.org)
178 points by ystad 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 293 comments

Society is not maintenance free, and the institutions and services society depends on are not maintenance free either. The Postal Service, like many services that we depend on in society, are just assumed to always work because for years and years they did work. Yet we allowed improvements to be delayed, allowed leaders in who acted in bad faith, and the result is an service that is substandard by it's own measure.

What's the answer? Commit to do the work necessary to turn it around. The mail hasn't changed over the last two years in some fundamental way that makes it disruptive. Investment in the system was simply deprioritized. We know what the system needs, so let's just do the work. We need the Postal Service to operate as it should, as it's a key piece of infrastructure that society depends on, whether we recognize it or not.

It would be nice to re-implement the Savings System that used to be in place. It would help the "under banked". Hell, even go radical and support USDC.


https://fortune.com/2020/03/04/post-office-banks-sanders-war... ("Bloomberg, Sanders, and Warren want to use post offices as banks")

As always, call your congressperson and indicate you support such legislation (if you do; imho you should). Also, the postal board of governors can sign off on the USPS providing financial services without congressional approval, so I expect to see some progress as the current administration fills vacancies on the board [2].

[2] https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/24/politics/usps-board-of-govern...

The republicans have been attacking the USPS for at least 2 decades of my life. Meanwhile the dems were mostly just neutral on the whole thing so it has deteriorated. I don't think anyone is blaming the postal service. This is clearly the result of republicans attempted to slowly degrade service to make commercial services look better.

I don't think it's clearly the result of what you indicate.

I'm no GOP fan at all but having done a lot of work with the federal government a very constant theme in politics is this idea that if only federal agencies are given more funding they can suddenly magically do their jobs better.

This ignores the fact that most of these agencies are horrific with their spending efficiency. The VA for example does not have any shortage of money but I've never encountered an organization with so many toxically inept bureaucrats, and unnecessarily numerous layers of management who don't seem to do anything.

The idea that there is this conspiracy to cause a degradation of service is not proven and that would welcome you to provide actual data from a non-political organization that backs this up.

DeJoy was/is actively sabotaging the USPS while holding millions in a private competitor. There's no conspiracy, it's happening out in the open.

I completely agree with you. With a quick Google search.

USPS operating budget 82 billion.

FedEx operating budget 4 billion.

Obviously this is not a complete comparison and you would need to also include volume and other metrics to get closer to the truth.

But this is potentially a canary in the coal mine for how inefficient the USPS.

It's possible that the Democrats are saying that the Republicans are attacking the post office to get a political win.

But in actuality the Republicans may be searching for more efficiency.

I don't know if any of this is true but this is another viewpoint.

On a quick and dirty look, I don't think those figures are right. Here's what I found for 2020:

USPS 2020

  Revenues & Expenses
  Package revenue:  $28,537M
  Overall revenue:  $73,123M
  Overall expenses: $82,309M
  Net profit:      -$ 9,176M

  Mail volume - pieces per year
  Packages:         ~6.4B
  Marketing mail:   ~75B
  First class mail: ~54B
The press release listed all volumes as changes and percents - I've made a quick effort to back out approximate total volumes. Data from https://about.usps.com/newsroom/national-releases/2020/1113-...


  Revenues & Expenses
  Package revenue:  Unknown
  Overall revenue:  $69,217M
  Net profit:       $ 1,286M

  Mail volume - pieces per year
  Packages:         ~4.6B
  Marketing mail:   N/A
  First class mail: N/A
Packages are presented per day, but only count operating days (255/yr) The source I found split expenses up into cost of goods sold/SG&A/other/operating. I'm not clear what each one means and don't want to misrepresent - try the link! Data from https://www.fedex.com/en-us/about/company-structure.html and https://www.macrotrends.net/stocks/charts/FDX/fedex/financia...

So USPS carries more packages, as well as insane volumes of mail that UPS/FedEx won't. Despite the significant volume differences, expenses are within 20% between the companies.

Thank you for looking into this!

That was very informative!

I'm going to look a little deeper into it but that makes me feel better about the efficiency of the post office now.

This was an excellent and informative post. The USPS really gets hosed by the fact that they are required to have a fixed price for the most rural, low-density locations that UPS and FedEx would never deliver to.


Wait, is there really a conspiracy out there that the reason the government performs so poorly is because people from “the opposite team” are actively joining and sabotaging it from within? Absolutely fascinating if so.

There's absolutely no evidence of this. It's been a popular talking point for a long time, but note how nobody making these assertions can provide a single, specific example of this phenomenon. They will instead resort to talking about groups of people on the other side stating philosophies like this, but you would think that if this was a massive conspiracy, there would be INDIVIDUALS being prosecuted for it. There aren't.

Do you think your experience at the DMV is caused by an army of saboteurs in the building? Do you think a secret boss in the back has somehow orchestrated a scheme that causes the employees to be rude and dismissive? Or, just maybe, is it simply the result of organizations which are unable or unwilling to terminate poor performers, creating a dead sea effect where competence is punished with more work and no credit?

> Do you think your experience at the DMV is caused by an army of saboteurs in the building?

My experience with the DMV in California is mostly positive, thank you very much.

Most of the stuff can be done online and I do it there.

That, unfortunately, means that when I must go into an actual DMV office, I can't schedule an appointment and I wind up in the line.

Yes, wait times can be significant (1-3 hours). However, when I get to the front, the woman (and it was always a woman) always tried to solve my immediate problem somehow. Yes, twice she needed to get her superior who also scratched her head to figure out something.

If I needed some extra paperwork that I could get that day, they generally gave me a way to jump the line when I came back.

I will tell you that FAR too many people go hit the DMV without having even the vaguest idea of what they need the DMV to do or even attempting to try to corral the paperwork they are going to need. This causes 90+% of the issues at the DMV in that they need to make multiple passes through the system.

If you hit the DMV and are just missing one thing, you're gonna get a LOT better service. The workers are only human and they're going to go the extra mile for someone who is putting in the effort more often than someone who isn't.

> Or, just maybe, is it simply the result of organizations which are unable or unwilling to terminate poor performers, creating a dead sea effect where competence is punished with more work and no credit?

Spoken like someone who has never worked customer service.

Why does everybody always seem to think rude and dismissive employees are indicative of employee failures instead of an indication that the job is shit, the employer is treating the employees like crap, and so only shitty people will take the job?

Reference: Costco vs Walmart.

I’ve worked a lot of low status customer facing jobs, including at Walmart. I also used to build houses as a carpenter for a GC. I’m fully aware of what it’s like to work for dehumanizing employers in dehumanizing industries with bad pay and no benefits.

The DMV isn’t one of these, sorry.

Making excuses for people who hate their jobs or bosses and take it out on the public is what I’d expect from someone with very little life experience.

I’ll notify the public that the DMV is amazing, and the TSA are friendly and professional. Nobody getting fired ever is because they hire only the best. /s

>> "Why does everybody always seem to think rude and dismissive employees are indicative of employee failures instead of an indication that the job is shit, the employer is treating the employees like crap, and so only shitty people will take the job?"

This is why I always give support people top ratings and try to put a positive spin in the comments even when it's hard. I know lots of people who work retail or front line support. It's pretty much never their fault when things go wrong.

"Together, DeJoy and Wos may claim up to a total $75,815,000 in assets from U.S. Postal Service competitors, according to government records."


Trump appointed Mick Mulvaney as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Mulvaney in a 2014 interview slammed the CFPB as a “sick, sad” joke; he also co-sponsored legislation that would have eliminated it."


"President-elect Donald Trump may nominate former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy—the agency Perry wanted to abolish but infamously forgot to name during a 2011 presidential debate." [Perry went on to be Trump's Secretary of Energy, and it can out that prior to taking the job, he didn't even know what the department did.]


Anti-government activists oppose measures to make filing taxes easier so you'll dislike them more: "Norquist has fought California’s ReadyReturn program, as well as the idea of free federal tax preparation." (Norquist is the one who famously said he wanted to shrink government "to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub," as quoted in this thread.)


Those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. So yes, active sabatoge from within is happening, and its not even a secret.

I was trying to figure out how to reply, but I think you got it. They do this out in the open. They run on it. It's not a conspiracy when they say it with volume and pride to anyone who will listen. "Government so small you can drown it in a bathtub" was only a slight paraphrase.

The thing that kills me, is there's no seeming paarty for those who turn up their nose at "good enough fpr Government work".

You have one that'll do end runs around Constitutional restrictions to aggregate power, another working feverishly to dismantle it...

Where are the people who just like providing high quality, ubiqquitously accessible civil services supposed to fit in?

> Commit to do the work necessary to turn it around.

Someone once wrote, years ago, a speculative piece about having the USPS take on a digital role as a kind of nationalized 3rd party identity authentication service. That seemed like a good idea to me. We could certainly use that and it's probably a better and more interesting business model than what currently provides them a huge amount of their revenue-- junk mail.

Whatever USPS is paid to deliver me junk mail I would gladly pay a premium to USPS for them to not deliver me junk mail. Of course as I say that I wonder just how much money USPS is paid to deliver junk mail to one person for a month? It's probably a lot more than I'd expect.

In FY2019 the USPS earned $16.4 billion from marketing mail [1]. Estimating 121 million households that's ~$136 per household per year.

The households that might choose to spend $136 per year to avoid junk mail are probably wealthier than average and therefore more valuable to advertisers. So letting those households opt-out would also probably reduce the value of those that remain. As a wild guess I suspect they might might need to charge closer to ~$200/yr to be revenue neutral to the USPS.

Having said that there are cheaper options [2] and I don't think the USPS should have to resort to delivering ~41 pounds of unwanted junk to every citizen every year just to stay afloat.

[1] https://about.usps.com/what/financials/integrated-financial-... [2] https://www.paperkarma.com/

Wouldn't costs also go down since they're delivering less junk and only stopping at houses that have letters/bills/etc to deliver ?

Good point -- I don't know how to estimate the marginal cost of delivering marketing mail but it's certainly not zero. Looking at the same USPS FY2020 financials [1] it looks like marketing mail constitutes a little more than half of the pieces they deliver. That about matches my experience. My guess is that several times a month I have a mailbox that contains solely marketing mail. I'm not sure how much money it would save the USPS if the mail carrier passes by my house without stopping on those days, but I suspect the bigger impact would be dealing with half the physical volume of mail for our household.

I still hope we can find a more sustainable path for the USPS than forcing them to stay alive by delivering something no one wants to receive.

[1] https://about.usps.com/what/financials/integrated-financial-...

I am almost 100% paperless with my affairs and nearly every single day I receive a mailbox solely filled with marketing mail.

No. USPS still has to stop by all of the houses anyway to pick up mail as well. So junk mail subsidizes the cost of going to all of those remote homes.

Sounds a solution, if one is already willing to pay to avoid receiving junk mail, would be to use a mail forwarding service and instruct them to discard junk mail if they do not already do so.

I think it depends on why you want to avoid junk mail.

There's a lot of human effort and natural resources consumed in growing timber, cutting it down, shipping it, pulping it, printing it, mailing it, delivering it, recycling it, and pulping it again but into lower-quality product.

Whereas my only wasted labor is to skim through the mail as I walk from the mailbox to the house and then drop the junk into the bin by the door. In the grand scheme of things that part doesn't bother me except insofar as it reminds me of the useless waste of the rest of the lifecycle.

Nice "pursuit of happiness" you have going there. It'd be a shame if anything happened to bury it in junk mail unless you paid me a monthly fee.

Why should you have to pay a national service to NOT deliver you junk mail? If your government isn’t serving you, why would you double down and assume additional funding will address the issue?

Totally agree, just for some reason it’s unfathomable in this country that there could be a government-provided service that runs at a loss because it’s something that everyone benefits from that needs to be a government service precisely because it couldn’t realistically run at a profit without, say, doing something really backwards, like physically spamming people with no way to opt out.

I’ll also point out that without junk mail, they could reduce OpEx quite a bit, and that should be factored into the equation as well. Package delivery services don’t stop at each address each day, and without junk mail, most households wouldn’t receive something in the mail each day. Same with trash collection — literally 95% of the mail we receive goes directly into bin, and I’m sure landfills are composed of a not-insignificant amount of junk mail. Excessive traffic and road wear from more mail delivery vehicles is probably less significant, but still caused by this. So, in addition to the environmental harm and annoyance of junk mail, the ridiculous situation we find in costs more than just the apparent “lost revenue” we’d have without it. It’s not like the government doesn’t spend way more per household per year on far lower value things than guaranteed physical mail delivery.

Imagine if politicians got national parks in their crosshairs, they were deemed not profitable enough, and the proposed solution was to start selling ad space in prominent outdoor locations, like Yosemite. Just picture Half Dome, with a nice fat “BROUGHT TO YOU BY XFINITY, HOME OF THE PACKAGE”.

Do you really receive junk every day?

In the UK, the cheap junk mailing rate allows Royal Mail to delay delivery for several days, to suit their schedule. They naturally batch it up. This is also appropriate for a lot of commercial non-junk mail.

In Denmark, it is delivered around once a week, probably with a similar system.

In both countries, I opted out of all junk mail. I receive a paper letter every 6 weeks or so.

There is a bill making its way (slowly) through congress on digital identity. But I don't think it has any provisions on USPS, but I think it mostly funds making recommendations.


It may not be fully digital, but I believe I ordered my last passport in person at a local post office. Obviously they also took on a much greater role in this past presidential election with the increase in mail in ballots.

In a similar vein, Bernie Sanders and others have backed proposals for postal banking.

Lots of countries do or have done it, including the US from 1911 to 1967. Restoring it would destroy the payday lending industry, which IMO would be a good thing.


India has very reliable Post Office banks. Although the interest rate is low, the money there is safe. It serves a huge amount of people, especially in rural areas and underprivileged people. Speed Post is very reliable as well.

> India has the largest Postal Network in the world with 154,965 Post Offices (as on 31.03.2017) of which 139,067 are in the rural areas. At the time of independence, there were 23,344 Post Offices, which were primarily in urban areas. Thus, the network has registered a seven-fold growth since Independence, with the focus of this expansion primarily in rural areas. On an average, a Post Office serves an area of 21.56 Sq. Km and population of 7753 people.

It also provides safe, steady jobs to a lot of people.

> What's the answer?

Taking a guess here that this is a US based comment? In Australia the postal service is a private company fully owned by the government. It's fairly well run by the private sector, consistently reliable and paying out annual profits to the Australian budget. It's not a burden at all on society, quite the opposite really, all that despite having strict service requirements to serve 99% of the population spread thinly across huge areas.

Given that the main article is about the USPS, yes, that is a US based comment.

"The mail hasn't changed over the last two years in some fundamental way that makes it disruptive"

COVID has very fundamentally changed the equation.

Also, some institutions are more adaptive than others, some are more resilient. I suggest the USPS is very low on 'adaptiveness', but probably fairly resilient.

Republicans changed the equation in their attempts to sabotage it.

From requiring pre-funding retirements years ago, to DeJoy dismantling sorting machines just a few months ago.

It's hard to know how adaptable a system is, when it's actively being torn down at every opportunity.

The politicized nature of discussing the post office in its funding has contaminated the brains of many people.

The load that is distributed by the postal service has changed in nature dramatically to be far more packaged intensive and far far less letter-intensive than it used to be.

The sorting machines that were being removed were letter sorting machines because nobody sends letters anymore except for junk mail. Room has to be made for more package sorting machines. That was the explanation for the moves but the timing made people suspicious and the suspicions were jumped upon by political actors in an election year.

Nobody bother to ask themselves why the GOP would remove sorting machines in states that are definitely going blue if it was part of some grand scheme. Again I really don't like the GOP and have never even voted for a GOP candidate but I get fed up with politics bleeding over into reality via misinformation designed to create an emotional and stressful feeling in potential voters to ensure they cast their ballots because that's what this is.

"The timing made people suspicious"

If they were not planning on dismantling and damaging the way the system functioned, then it would be overwhelmingly obvious that simply the optics of literally dismantling infrastructure in an election year that would be the most widely dependent on mail are atrocious.

People were not "suspicious" of the timing. People refused to believe someone could be so stupid as to think they could do what DeJoy did in good faith, after being appointed by someone openly demanding the shutdown of the system, and not look like they were blatantly performing a political hit job. No good faith actor would possibly act that way.

Or maybe, just maybe, the news doesn't typically report on standard USPS actions, but chose to latch on to these specific actions due to the timing causing people to jump to conclusions and therefore click on the link.

Have you ever heard of equipment changes at the USPS in the past? Probably not. Do you think they never changed USPS equipment in previous years, under different presidents?

I've voted blue my whole life, but that doesn't mean I'm going to remain silent while dumb conspiracy theories with no evidence are weaponized to drive voter turnout. There are real world consequences to weaponizing misinformation, including the undermining of trust in systems of government.

Every serious bit of attention to these kinds of stories further bolsters the notion that conspiracies in government are routine, and feeds right wing extremists just as much as (if not more) than left-wing extremists.

Any time you find yourself "mind reading" people, assuming that "it couldn't just be a coincidence" you should ask yourself if you are being manipulated by weaponized propaganda.

And as a lifelong Democrat who has taught workshops to journalists at the Center for American Progress in the past, I think a huge issue for the future of the party is that fact that most of the corporate media has followed the Fox News confirmation bias monetization strategy, but chosen to target the left. The DeJoy story, like Benghazi on the right, has elements of truth mixed in with pure speculation, and is primarily narrative built on narrative built on narrative with kernels of actual truth scattered here and there. You end up getting silly things like pictures from hyper blue states like NJ and CA with Twitter addicts claiming that the truck hauling mailboxes from Encinitas to Riverside is "rigging the election." It's just plain silly paranoia.

>I've voted blue my whole life, but that doesn't mean I'm going to remain silent while dumb conspiracy theories with no evidence are weaponized to drive voter turnout. There are real world consequences to weaponizing misinformation, including the undermining of trust in systems of government.

It's hopeless. I've also tried to point out the logical flaws in peoples' USPS conspiracy theories (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24290622), with little success. It's just as hopeless to tell people that Congress forcing the USPS to prefund pensions was a) bipartisan and b) a good thing, as opposed to yet another GOP anti-USPS plot.

while you raise some good points in that post, your 3c point assumes equal and easy access to balot boxes, in a time when the president and his party were railing against mail in votes.

Mail in votes were going to be a big deal that election. Even if flats were down as you said, it doesn't seem intuitive that you would reduce the ability to process flats prior to an election that depends on them.

Can you provide links to show that it was routine destruction?

Also why did they continue when ordered by federal judges to stop the destruction of the machines?

Why not wait till after an election where mail in ballots were going to be a big force, in the midst of a pandemic?

It's hard to cleanly separate standard procedure from ill intent, when the president himself is simultaneously railing against mail in ballots, while his appointees are overseeing the reduction of systems that assist in processing them.

I can't find any thing that backs up your version of events and I've tried searching. Though I'd like to see more about it.

The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act was both put forward by Democrats and a Republicans and passed with broad bipartisan support.

The Democrats are pretty good at taking bribes, too.

As long as it's not a wedge issue, the Dems are fine siding with the Republicans.

>...From requiring pre-funding retirements years ago,

USPS pension funding gets brought up quite a bit as some kind of a conspiracy, but that doesn't appear to be accurate.

The issue for the postal service is that the law was changed so that the USPS would start funding their retirement health care costs since they are promised to the workers and the projected costs had exploded. This was supported by a bipartisan commission, the GAO, and the Postal Service itself:

>...Although retiree health benefits are often unfunded or poorly funded, two considerations suggested the Service’s retiree health care obligations should be funded: they are as firm a commitment as the Service’s pensions, and they had become enormous (about $75 billion by 2006). In 2003, the presidential commission suggested establishing a reserve fund for these obligations, and the Postal Service itself sent Congress a proposal for creating such a fund.

>Prior to 2006, the Service simply paid retirees’ health benefit premiums when they came due. The Service put aside no money when it promised the future benefits. Paying benefits when they come due rather than funding them in advance is known as the pay-as-you-go or unfunded approach. >Early this century, Congress, the Administration, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), and a bipartisan presidential commission expressed concern about the lack of funding. Although retiree health benefits are often unfunded or poorly funded, two considerations suggested the Service’s retiree health care obligations should be funded: they are as firm a commitment as the Service’s pensions, and they had become enormous (about $75 billion by 2006). In 2003, the presidential commission suggested establishing a reserve fund for these obligations, and the Postal Service itself sent Congress a proposal for creating such a fund.

>In 2002-2003, it was discovered that the Service was contributing far more than necessary to fully fund its pensions, and Congress allowed the Service to contribute less. Congress decided the pension “savings” could help patch the retiree health benefit underfunding. In 2006, as part of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA), the Postal Service Retirement Health Benefits Fund (RHBF) was established. Most of the Service’s contributions to the new fund could be paid using the pension “savings.” PAEA was bipartisan legislation with broad support.


>...If they didn't have to prepay pensions (something no other government agency, or private company in the world is required to do, or does), they'd be in great shape.

In relation to this, the USPS has posted this as part of a fact sheet:

>...More recently, the USPS Fairness Act was passed by the House. It would eliminate the requirement to prefund retiree health benefits and forgive our current defaulted prefunding payments. However, ultimate passage of the bill will not reduce our underlying retiree health benefits liability, nor improve our cash flow or long-term financial position.


>If they didn't have to prepay pensions (something no other government agency, or private company in the world is required to do, or does), they'd be in great shape.

In addition to the reasoning you posted, this is factually incorrect. Every single private company in the US is legally required to prefund their pension plans (there's some complex laws handling the actuarial stuff and interest rates, eg MAP-21). It's so incredibly wrong to say that the post office is an outlier because they're required to. The post office was an outlier until they were required to prefund pensions. It also muddies the waters to conflate retiree health insurance with pension plans.


Per this, your statement isn't fully correct either, since the new rulings made the USPS an outlier.

That's exactly what I meant in my comment about "muddying the waters" by conflating pensions and health insurance.

It was misleading of Bishop to bring up pensions in your linked politifact article[1]

Take the case where every company in the USA (including the post office) is required to do X and Y, but only the USPS is required to do Z. It's a true statement to say that "only the post office has to do Z". It's also a true statement to say "Only the post office has to do all 3 of X, Y, and Z". But the latter statement is abusing boolean logic to make it sound like X and Y only apply to the post office.

[1]: It's also misleading to say they "must fund 100% of the costs in advance" when the actual requirement is that the pension plan be "fully funded". If you're fully funding your pension plan, compound interest is probably covering at least 50% of the costs.

What does the Patent Office have to do with the Post Office?

I suppose it is obvious that the previous writer just used wrong abbreviation, and meant the postal service.

Snail-mail is in trouble in most parts of the developed world, because online services have replaced so many processes that were running on paper.

Providing an example from my country and neighbours, i.e. the Nordics. Look at the graph that has numbers of delivered letters in different countries - it has roughly halved in 10 years, and the trend continues:


Parcel deliveries are growing, but there the postal services have competition.

As the volume of letters decreases - particularly in businesses and offices but also in private lives - it becomes increasingly difficult to run the service without financial loss.

Halving the number of envelopes does not imply increasing their transit time. If anything, it could actually speed them up... As for financial loss, it's a state-provided service. They are not created to make profits, but to provide a level of basic service. Just like primary schools, or local roads.

Halving the number of envelopes implies halving the revenue. As much of the cost is fixed (dependent on the size of infrastructure such as premises and vehicles, and number of delivery people required to cover a geographical area with sufficient service), this creates a rather impossible equation to solve without any deterioration of service.

A natural way in this situation is to make deliveries less often; we no longer need official letters urgently, except in quite rare exception cases that can probably be covered by parcel delivery services, with tracking (and much higher cost for the small number of deliveries).

Over here, the postal service tries to solve this by arranging deliveries only three times a week, and in future perhaps once a week. I find that quite acceptable. If information needs to reach me faster, it'll come on-line anyway. A week's wait is OK for legacy services where someone wants a piece of physical paper with my signature, written on a pen, on it.

Assuming price stays the same that means half the revenue, almost the same fixed costs and probably slightly lower marginal costs.

There is always a limit on how much money you can get from the government so they would have to save on expenditure with the decline.

It's nice to have but it can't be considered critical anymore. Bills, paychecks and other important mail needs to be delivered digitally, there's no turning back.

edit: parcels and legacy papers still need to work everywhere though and that is worth some public spending, but if you live in the middle of nowhere you have to accept longer deliveries on fewer days of the week.


Why are you posting this same thing multiple times?

Because I originally wrote it on level 2 in a thread, then felt it was serviceable as a reply to the thread OP, as well as a top level reply.

So it will all come down to money. But before everyone jumps in to say, that USPS needs more money from the federal government, it’s useful to remind where the current issue with money is: 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act requires prefunding for 75 years.


Honest question... why not kill it off instead and push legacy users into the digital world?

The USPS claims to have 230,000 vehicles. How much of that environmental footprint could be eradicated?


I love when my parents send me new socks digitally for Christmas. Oh, and the girl scout cookies I buy, a byte of thin mints has never tasted so good.

You cannot dismantle the only mail service that is OBLIGATED to deliver mail to every address. FEDEX and UPS don't deliver out to my wife's grandmother. FEDEX and UPS don't deliver to my Uncle's factory, in the middle of a medium sized town in north east Texas. But the Post Office does.

When you get rid of a government service that has literally served the entire country, and replace it with a profit driven company, you will disrupt the entire country.

As much as I dislike how crappy the delivery of the USPS has become (I still rely on them for a couple clients who don't believe in digital payments even if I discount their invoice, and my wife's and my prescriptions come through the mail), they have been much more consistent and on time than FEDEX or UPS. I'm actually still waiting on a package via FEDEX that has been out for delivery (in California not NY where I live) for about 3 weeks now.

USPS is NOT obligated to deliver to every address. My parents live about ten miles from one of the larger cities in California. UPS and FedEx will happily deliver to their address, but USPS doesn't. As a consolation prize, USPS offers them a discount on PO boxes.


More information:


> But frequency of delivery is the only obligation that is clearly articulated in the Postal Service’s current USO. In fact, the USO is based on a hodgepodge of various legal requirements and regulations that, in most cases, provide only broad guidance. For example, while public access to postal services is another important component of the USO, there’s nothing about how many access points, such as collection boxes or post offices, must exist.

Nothing there about delivering to every address.


> We’re proud to provide secure, reliable and affordable service to every address in the United States, plus its territories and its military and diplomatic installations worldwide.

They say they provide postal service to every address in the United States, so if they are lying, then we as citizens should do something about it. I'm just going off the usps facts website, and what they claim.

> service to every address

Doesn't say delivery to every address.

Forcing some addresses to rent P.O. Boxes is still serving them.

"You cannot dismantle the only mail service that is OBLIGATED to deliver mail to every address. "

You can if you obligate other national carriers to do that.

The fact is the world has changed dramatically in the last few decades and the kinds of things that are sent are completely different, demands are different, technology has changed rapidly. I don't get anything other than junk mail from the public service, I wish it would stop.

I think an optimal solution might be to actually semi-privatize the USPS, by floating a small % ownership (say 10%) on public exchange, letting them set their own prices and strategy, which would remove recent Republican meddling - and - also remove their impetus as well, as it would be a 'self sustaining' entity, still mostly owned by the Government.

Having a % float would provide some measure of market feedback, this is a tactic used by some very wealthy families to give external measures to their CEO's and have some degree of accountability. I believe Bertelsmann uses this kind of setup.

Aside from that, it could very well be possible to require private carriers to have the same, national coverage in order to be considered 'national carriers' a status which they should have to have to be able to bid on certain contracts etc..

'National Carriers' could have access to things like mail boxes in buildings, and other things, possibly even co-use of USPS facilities, much like government has required last-mile fibre operators to share their gear with competitors (i.e. CLECs).

Something like that could work.

Ah I feel your pain. Their tracking system is on point though. It's kind of interesting watching a package bounce around randomly across the country.

> You cannot dismantle the only mail service that is OBLIGATED to deliver mail to every address.

It doesn't, though. I lived ten years at an address they wouldn't deliver to. I had to rent a PO Box in the nearest town to get USPS mail, whereas UPS and FedEx delivered right to my door. I don't know where you're getting your information, but it isn't true.

This does not compute. They have the legal obligation to deliver to all addresses. Do you have an address that has been assigned by your county? Have you registered the new address with your USPS?

Your mailbox might not be at your drive way, or on your front step, but a mailbox cluster in a central location.

From the USPS (emphasis mine): > We’re proud to provide secure, reliable and affordable service to every address in the United States, plus its territories and its military and diplomatic installations worldwide.

The only situation I know of where the usps will refuse to deliver is if there is some sort of danger, eg a biting dog. A neighbor had to get a P.O. Box because of this.

That computes for me when I lived in a rural area. A lot of commenters came to tout this:

> They have the legal obligation to deliver to all addresses. Do you have an address that has been assigned by your county?

While that might be true, in practicality it was not. It took me months at two different locations to get USPS to stop screwing things up or to give me access to a cluster. I think a lot of people here have had great experiences with USPS and are unable to imagine geographies where the system doesn't work too well.

Guessing: Perhaps his residence wasn't an address.

My residence was an address. It was a house with a house number on a named road.

> Do you have an address that has been assigned by your county? Have you registered the new address with your USPS?

Yes, it's a hard address which the fire department, for example, can use. And the USPS knew about it.

> Your mailbox might not be at your drive way, or on your front step, but a mailbox cluster in a central location.

My mailbox was in a post office miles away from my house, which I had to pay for. I've since moved.

I have lived at a non-delivery address for the past 5 years. The “every address” myth seems to be propagated by people who support USPS and conflate “we deliver to people all over the US” with “every address”.

That sounds similar, but is significantly different, and can be a major pain when dealing with people or businesses that believe the myth, and try to send important paperwork to a physical address, which may end up in our P.o. box if the USPS person handling it recognizes the name and can match it to a box number.

Putting both the physical and P.o. box addresses into an address block, in that order, works well, but then shippers can balk at finding a box number. (see also “Falsehoods programmers believe about addresses, etc.”)

If it is a myth, it is propagated by the USPS.

They will deliver for every mail address. USPS designated non-deliverable addresses are typically new addresses that haven't been added, or as another commenter posted, an address that is unsafe to deliver.

Now, delivering to your mailbox might be a central mail hub that is part of your community/neighborhood, and not directly to your door, but that is still your address's mailbox.

What's the difference between a mail address and a street address?

My friend, you are living in the past. My parents live in a golf community in Arizona (shocker :). It is not a gated community, just windy streets where all the houses were built by the same developer. It is not some unincorporated area, it's in Scottsdale, a major city, and the houses were built around 2000. There are no vicious dogs nor is there anything dangerous about delivering mail to people over the age of 50. It is not a rural area, it's suburbia. The USPS will not deliver mail to their door, they only deliver to a set of postboxes for the whole community about a mile away. My parents have to drive their car to the where the PO boxes are each day. Everyone in the community does. I worry what happens if they get too old to drive, as they wont be able to get mail. I asked my parents about it and they said this was common in this part of Arizona to cut costs -- like the USPS gave up on solving the last mile problem. When a housing development is built on, say, 100 acres, the USPS just picks one area and says "we'll only deliver here" and that's where they build the mailboxes for all the people that will live on that hundred acres, even if it's like 5000 people. If someone is foolish enough to send a package to them that doesn't fit in the small mailbox, my parents will get a slip to pick it up from the local post office, which of course requires a farther drive.

Meanwhile Fedex, Amazon, UPS deliver right to their door. The quality and level of service of USPS is atrocious, and all over America they are cutting back on their last mile commitments while private companies continue to deliver right to the door.

I'm not living in the past, that has been how it has been for decades. In new communities they create a hub or mailroom. It isn't typically the post office that designates that, it is the HOA. They don't want ugly mailboxes in front of everyone's house. An old boss of mine successfully lobbied to get mail delivered to the house since everyone was pissed at having to drive a mile or further to the club house to get their mail.

Since around 2013, though, the USPS HAS mandated new communities get a single mail hub, but it still satisfies their rule of delivering for every address.

You just made my point exactly with your last sentence:

"Since around 2013, though, the USPS HAS mandated new communities get a single mail hub, but it still satisfies their rule of delivering for every address."

This in no way satisfies delivering to every address. It is a clear break from this commitment.

No, it has always been this way. As long as I have been alive new communities (gated and non, apartments/condos, and houses) have opted for their own mail room. The USPS has just decided in the last 7.5 years to go along with what was already standard practice. If you build a new house outside of a community/neighborhood and properly have your address registered you will get mail delivered.

You can also require TO home delivery (but you will have to fight your HOA), if you are elderly or infirm. The handful of times HOAs have allowed this, there has typically been backlash toward the resident (anecdotes, not data).

This is obscuring the difference between a community choosing to have reduced service and, since 2013, the postal service mandating that service be reduced.

No, it has not always been the case that the USPS mandated a reduced level of service to new housing developments. That is a big deal. They are effectively saying that they are not going to support door to door delivery to any housing community in America, regardless of what that housing community wants.

But the end result is the same, the resident doesn't have the choice (except in a few circumstances) to get mail delivery to their door. Their choice is the same today as it was 30 years ago, move into a neighborhood and get mail at a central mailbox, or don't move to a neighborhood.

Living in NYC, my mail wasn't delivered to my door. Living in Houston, TX, my mail wasn't delivered to my door. Living in Webster, TX, my mail wasn't delivered to my door. Living in Pasadena, TX my mail wasn't delivered to my door.

My cabin in a small town in Colorado, mail is delivered to a letter box attached to my door (well used to, I have told the USPS to refuse all mail). My house in a small town in upstate NY, mail is delivered to the letter flap in my door. My friend who lives in a neighborhood in NJ built over 30 years ago, has to drive to get his mail because the community board chose no mail boxes.

The end result is the exact same, the USPS just decided to codify exactly what was already happening, so that they could standardize how they were supposed to use those mail rooms.

You are overly simplifying the cause and effect, mailbox down the road != usps delivering mail to everyone, thus I'm living in some fairy tail land that no longer exists.

Not it is not the same. Saying "the USPS will never again deliver mail to the door of any new development in the US" is not at all the same thing as saying "some developments can opt out of mail delivery to their door".

You honestly do not see the difference between these two statements?

> If you build a new house outside of a community/neighborhood and properly have your address registered you will get mail delivered.

This is false, based on my own experience and the experience of others:



Even if everyone went fully digital, and letters became a thing of the past, you would still need a functional postal service.

Packages obviously will still be sent for one, but also from a national security perspective it makes no sense to have private businesses running the entire delivery logistics network.

Lastly, if you see the government as enabling an economy for free markets, a state run postal service is a great backbone for that.

>it makes no sense to have private businesses running the entire delivery logistics network.

When you consider how much of US logistics is done by private companies, I'd say we're pretty much there and always were. Even if you dig into the USPS by itself, how much is done by private contractors? ..especially upstream from the local office.

That last mile of to-the-house delivery is a non-trivial thing but I'm not sure how essential it is.

Restated: it makes no sense to have private businesses running the entire electricity generation and delivery network. Yet here we are.

> Restated: it makes no sense to have private businesses running the entire electricity generation and delivery network. Yet here we are.

I suppose this was a restatement to point out a flaw in my previous point, but I do agree with the notion that critical national infrastructure should not involve private businesses.

Just because “here we are”, doesn’t mean it’s where we should be. There are different points of view on this so I don’t expect everyone to agree with this (market efficiencies, etc etc), but I just see it as a solution looking for a problem in many cases.

Downsizing the USPS, putting increasingly more onerous rules on it, then turning around and saying “well look, the private market is already doing so much, let’s just go with that”, seems shortsighted to me.

I think I worry less about government vs. private for things that are basically monopolies or oligopolies, both can be arbitrary and unfair (and abused), but that a lot of extremely important goods and services represent single points of failure.

Single-sourcing electricity or package delivery or precursor raw materials always seems like a near-sighted move even if it is cheaper. There's a false economy to gigantism.

Not everyone has access to internet, high speed internet, or the devices or ability to connect. Think of the elderly and the impoverished. Pushing them off would push many of them out of connection with society and in many cases disenfranchise them. Furthermore, the infrastructure of the web is privately owned, unlike the interstate and other roadways.

Your use of the word "push" makes it sound like you believe people who don't have access to "the digital world" are there by choice...

For the same reason we have land lines still. redundancy is a good thing.

Only an American will think about killing off the Post Office.

I doubt I represent a typical American. You can perhaps find comfort that I was down-voted to oblivion within fifteen minutes for posting such a naughty thought.

Here is my distillation of arguments for keeping the USPS:

* USPS is required to service areas which may not be covered by other carriers. A handful of commenters note, from first hand experience, that rural inhabitants may have to pick up mail from centralized depots away from their homes.

* USPS transactional mail serves those without internet access. The internet is effectively controlled by a handful of private entities. If internet access was universal and treated like a public utility, it is unclear if this second argument still holds.

Interestingly, nobody brought up mail-in voting and its importance to democracy. Nor is the environmental impact of the USPS apparently worthy of consideration.

My biggest takeaway is that the USPS is a sacred cow. Like the topics of gender and race, it's unwise to ask questions.

Useful union voting bloc seems to be the major reason. When they come out with PR pieces the biggest “reason” is veterans and the elderly not being able to get drugs delivered via mail, which seems like a rather tiny, solvable problem that doesn’t require flushing endless billions, but hey, here we are.

You went from “useful union voting bloc” to “veterans and the elderly not being able to get drugs delivered by mail.” What a ride.

In reality there are lots of reasons to keep USPS, being able to get packages to all among them. Parent commenters have done a great job outlining some. I would encourage you to think more critically about reasons we would want a state-run postal system that don’t involve pet causes like union voting blocs.

"...“reason” is veterans and the elderly not being able to get drugs delivered via mail, which seems like a rather tiny, solvable problem ..."

How is that a "tiny" problem?

>What's the answer? Commit to do the work necessary to turn it around.

No. I'm going to commit to dismantling an outdated and unnecessary burden on society that serves mostly to deliver literal garbage to a box in my yard. Since it's easier to destroy than to build, I predict I will win in the long run.

I don't know what world you live in but the Postal System has been a running joke for at least the last 50 years. I mean there's even a meme called "going postal" where someone commits mass murder. When was this time you're imagining when it worked well?

Using "going postal" as evidence of anything basically completely destroys the entire point of your post as "going postal" happens all over and might be more properly called "going school shooting" as it is relatively rare in comparison.

Ah, but we can defund, ruin, then shut down public schools too!

This, but not sarcasm.

>happens all over

Yes, that's what it means for it to have become a meme


Whoa. You can't post like this here and we ban accounts that do.

I'm not going to ban you right now because it doesn't look like you've been making a habit of it, but please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and stick to the rules from now on. We want thoughtful, substantive threads here.

> literally required by the constitution

I don’t think this is true. The Constitution provides Congress the power to “establish post offices and post roads” in Article I, Section 8, but the list of enumerated powers begins with the phrase “The Congress shall have Power”, which does not seem to establish a positive mandate to exercise such powers.

For instance, other enumerated powers include:

> To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

There hasn’t been a declaration of war since 1941, and it’s been even longer since Congress issued any letters of marque and reprisal. The postal service had the same constitutional status as pirates: Congress certainly could commission them if they want to, but it’s not strictly required.

Maybe. Yes. Price caps are immoral. I don't care about the Constitution any more than our PATRIOT Act passing, right to bear arms infringing, throw you in a cage over growing your own food government does. The Constitution is the right's "gun free zone" signs. It means nothing.

Please stop posting flamewar comments to HN. It's not what this site is for.

We've had to ask you this repeatedly in the past. We ban accounts that ignore such requests, so please stop.


I find that the problem is last mile. I’ve lived in 4 areas in the Us where I received a lot of mail. 3/4 were amazing and everything came quickly. I assumed all USPS was great.

For the last 10 years my post office has had many problems. Packages where tracking shows it “out for delivery” but it never arrives. The electronic delivery email sends scans of letters “arriving today” that don’t come until the next day. Drivers who put “redelivery notices” in the mailbox rather than door saying I wasn’t available, backdated to previous days.

It’s very strange because contacting the postmaster just results in odd excuses, for example, I was told that the delivery driver was really busy that day and couldn’t make it to my house. I live in suburbia in a neighborhood with hundreds of houses.

So this post office sucks. It seems drivers suck, management sucks and that results in slow and missing mail.

I travel a bit and like to send post cards to family, including my own. A post card to my house consistently arrives 2-4 days after the card to a family member in a zip code 50 miles way, an even more remote suburb. This seems consistent from very remote locations as well as domestic. Curious.

My soft conclusion is that the “systematic” portions of the USPS are reliable and good. But the “local” portions are hit or miss.

In my rural area, one of the "last mile" problems is that there's now an extra leg. Since the small local post offices no longer hand-sort mail, but drive it to a larger hub post office that has the address OCR machines to auto-sort it, a cross-town letter that used to be delivered same day or next day now takes 3 days or more due to the extra round trip. Add that on top of all the extra work the USPS is doing with pandemic-related package shipment and I'm sure there is a lot of backlog at many points in the system.

To further point out the ridiculousness of preventing local post offices from sorting mail: For 8 years, my landlord and I had PO Boxes at the same small town post office. You'd think one could just hand rent to the teller, who my landlord and I both knew by name, so she could walk the ~8 feet and put it in my landlord's box. But that wasn't allowed. Delivery to the same post office the letter was mailed from took a few days to a week because they had to send it off to a sorting center and wait for it to be sent back.

Yes, mail just put in the slot in my town goes to another town 40 miles away for sorting and comes back the next day.

We used to have a basket at the window where one could drop PO box mail for the same town, and it would be distributed directly. COVID killed that.

How was that related to covid? (Risk for virus on the envelopes somehow? or too crowded over at the window?)

The plastic shields took up the counter space.

Through work we deal with Japan Post, and there a letter can get basically anywhere in the mainland from anywhere else in one business day.

Granted, the nation is one-dimensional in shape so things are helped there, but the reliability is expected.

On one hand, I think overworking mail workers isn’t worth it. On the other hand tho, surely there’s a way to make this stuff work better than requiring 3 days to move a letter across town.

Well, if you really want that thing delivered you have other options, right? FedEx, DHL, other private companies.

The whole problem is that USPS has a lot of obligations that those other courier services don't, and it has to amortize costs.

Exactly 33 days ago I sent 8 letters from Long Island, New York. 7 of the letters were destined for New York City (a 40 min drive from its origin) and 1 letter destined for Georgia. Within the first seven days 6 of the letters arrived, 5 to NYC and the 1 to GA. Letter #7 arrived in NYC 3 weeks after being sent. As of today letter #8 still hasn't arrived or been returned.

I'm amazed that USPS can somehow keep up with all the sprawl. It has to cost a lot to run out all these trucks to suburbia, for what? $0.40 per piece?

I used to love USPS and was kind of in awe of them because they do just what you describe.

However, they have a fixed, predictable surface that they must cover and should be able to plan costs better than most organizations.

They also frequently increase prices so should be able to factor driving a jeep every day over, effectively, the surface area of every street in the US where someone lives.

So it seems like the cost is high, but predictable so just work it out.

It’s a weird situation where they have a monopoly, set a cost-plus price, and yet still fail to meet the need.

It doesn't help that the USPS was gutted last year on purpose by someone who stood and still stands to profit off of killing it.

How and by whom?

That's an interesting thought and would certainly explain why I haven't been able to relate to the issues people say they have the USPS.

There’s always been local politics and issues around mail delivery.

The GOP crusade against the post office is sort of like a weaponization of certain types of resentment in the south that worked it’s way into conservative media over the years at a national scale.

It’s an organization that has adapted over the centuries to new technology and needs. USPS fundamentally transformed most recently when rail-based mail sorting changed 50 years ago.

The difference now is that some people feel that government should not work.

I hear this a lot, but the problems I’ve had seem to be during dem and republican administrations and in dem and republication controlled states and counties.

So the problems that I’ve witnessed seem unrelated to budget pressure issues.

So I suppose it’s curious how some places are awesome despite the “crusade” while other places suck.

Of course I’ve only had my own experiences as I can’t find any real performance data. Seems actually odd how USPS doesn’t track these metrics much less publish them. For example, what percent letters delivered within 2-3 days. Why isn’t this tracked to the sorting level? Seems like it would actually be pretty easy to add a code to the postmark when received and track it in the sorting machines, etc etc. But this isn’t done.

Anyway, this may be the fault. But perhaps it’s a result of the crappiness and lack of efficiency, etc. It’s hard to tell, but hard for me to do anything with as it seems to me like performance depends so much on local post offices and performance was either good or bad consistently, over time.

If there was a crusade against the post office that affected performance, I would expect degradation over time, over all locations.

USPS post quarterly delivery statistics.

Look under Mailing Services Measurement Results: https://about.usps.com/what/performance/service-performance/

Each table for a service type has ~10 years worth of nationwide annual percent on-time delivery. It's harder to compare individual geographic areas (you can change the URL to go back a year or two, not sure where older reports are).

A big entity like USPS will have its share of effective and shitty branches. And no political party has a monopoly on incompetence.

It’s very evident that the GOP has taken many actions to weaken the finances of the Postal Service and systematically politicize and dismantle parts of it.

The problem with the last mile is that there’s a lot of them. Even more if you’re in suburbia, where the number of people living in the last mile is comparable to people living in the last block or so in the city.

Out of my 4 spots, 2 are urban and 2 are suburban. I’ve had a great suburban experience, 1 bad. Both urban were really good.

It seems like suburban mail delivery should be easy to predict and factor into cost.

Yet another reason why suburbia is expensive and not sustainable https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVUeqxXwCA0

> This is where Americans go to vacation then return to their depressingly soul-crushingly dystopian car dependent suburbs

This video probably isn't the best source to build a persuasive argument from.

Yeah, remaking society seems like a just and scaleable solution

You don't have to remake the whole of society. Just stop making more of the bits that don't work.

As simple as that huh? Wonder why that hasn't been tried before.

Ladies and gentlemen I present Sunk Cost Mentality.

Yep, such costs such as the freedom to choose not to live in some utopian urban beehive. Find a better solution.

Let’s not pretend the USPS was anywhere near this bad before Trump’s appointment of Louis DeJoy to postmaster general: “Mail Service Deteriorated After Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s Arrival, Watchdog Found” (wsj) https://www.wsj.com/articles/mail-service-deteriorated-after...

My most recent post office has sucked since I moved here in 2009. To me, it seems like it has been consistently terrible. I wish we had more objective performance measures.

> The Postal Service did not pass our test. A little over half of our letters arrived within the three-day window.

That is still a fantastic result. Considering the size of the delivery area and the very disparate abilities of the delivery network (rural, urban, suburbs, etc), I am impressed.

For an underfunded and constantly sabotaged public institution, it still appears to work reasonably well. And yes, the 55p price is absolutely cheap for the expected service. First-class mail in Europe is often 1-2€ for much smaller countries.

I disagree, we can and should do much better. If only 90% of your christmas cards arrive, fine. But if only 90% of people's paychecks or tax returns arrive, that's a national disaster. To be useful for anything essential or important, infrastructure has to be reliable. And it used to be reliable, and it can be again with different policy.

Then people should fund it like it's a critical service. Now it's treated like some punching bag. Mandated to spend money on non-profitable areas, but prevented by competition from raising prices in the profitable ones to be able to properly cross-finance the more costly parts.

USPS financial hardships stems from liabilities prefunding requirements.

That's just one particular aspect. Even without that the core business model still has this fatal flaw (which is also a statutory requirement).

Do European countries subsidize the residential mail service with commercial bulk mail (aka junk mail) and overnight services?

Speaking for France as I am not too familiar with other countries, no, commercial mail here is distributed manually by people living in poverty who get stacks of junk to distribute every morning. The post office here is a public service that is getting increasingly privatized, losing a bit more of service quality and goodwill every time (if your only KPI is "distribute your stash of mail the fastest way possible", some things like leaving a receipt for a package and fixing off-by one addresses get lost in the race).

You can opt-out of the junk with a sticker on your mailbox anyway.

Exactly the same goes in Switzerland. I suppose all those people suggesting privatizing the postal services either live in a digital bubble or never sent a postcard to their grandmas.

Wish that were possible in the US. Given the amount of junk mail that goes straight to the trash can, I am surprised there has not been more of an uproar from the environmentalists.

On the other hand companies can still mail you junk through the postal system, but they need your address for that (and also now your GDPR consent for processing and using PII, which they mostly will not risk to fake).

Since moving to the NL, I've never received junk mail.

I disagree re fantastic result. If a check gets mailed to you and it takes weeks to arrive, even if that is <10% of the time, that is not good.

With respect to cost, it would be interesting to see how much FedEx would charge to provide the service with an explicit breakout of the charge for rural delivery.

The US postal service might not be what it used to be (I didn’t get a Christmas card I was sent until mid-April) but it still remains one of the most impressive logistics systems ever built, in my opinion. Letters sent to me have tracked me through multiple moves with the high point being a letter showing up in a mailbox after I’d moved twice, with one of the moves being across state lines and the other being intracity. Was it late? Yes. Did it arrive? Yes. It’s probably the only portion of the US government that I’m absolutely certain will eventually do its job.

But as recently as a couple of years ago it did its job much better: both more reliably and more rapidly. The reason people are writing about it now is because the new regime of routine delays is very recent, and probably the result of some very significant changes made by politically-appointed leadership.

ETA: There is a relatively short window now during which these changes can be rolled back, or people will just get used to the idea that "the reliable Post Office is another of those fantasies my parents' generation enjoyed, oh well: at least I can use UberMail for $22 a letter."

Let's not mince words: Republicans conspired to fuck up the post office because its successes serve as a counter example to their narrative.


I've been shipping stuff online for 15 years. The post office has always been a huge mess. The only reason articles are getting written about it now is because A. Covid-era mail volumes have doubled or tripled. And B. You get to blame Trump.

DeJoy was literally having them tear mail sorting machines out of their facilities, having them discarded in trash bins, and then cut hours for workers.

Try again.

The Obama administration had them remove a massive amount of sorting machines too. Those are letter sorting machines. Letter volume is down to literally the lowest it had ever been. There is a reason they are getting ripped out.

The letter sorting machines are faster and cheaper than manually sorting the same letters... and they were already paid for.

You are correct that there is a reason that they are being ripped out, but it's not because letter volume is down.

Manually sorting letters isn't actually the alternative here - what the US Postal Service was moving towards under DeJoy (and probably before him too) was sorting the same letters using the same kind of automatic machines, but a smaller number of them reconfigured to sort into a larger number of different piles using parts from the scrapped machines. This reduces overall capacity, but should be more efficient so long as they don't actually need the extra capacity.

Letter volume is down and the machines need to be replaced with machines that can handle parcels. How are they supposed to replace them!?

I've been reading articles about Republicans sabotaging the postal service by making it pre-fund its retiree health fund since well before Trump. In fact, the law was passed 15 years ago, just as you started shipping stuff.

It's always been absurd to expect a government service to make a profit, and we've been talking about that for a long time, I don't think most people say it's Trump's fault.

Any employer that promises its employees benefits in the future should have to set aside money to pay for them. Including the government, even though it has exempted itself from this common sense requirement that it imposes on non government entities. If anything, the rest of the government should have to do what USPS was legislated to do.

Note that the law you are referring to required the USPS to set aside money for accrued benefits, just like any private company has to. Otherwise you end up with the situation that IL/CT/NJ and many other governments are subjecting their taxpayers to, which is raising taxes now to pay for labor performed decades ago. It’s nice for the taxpayers of decades ago, not so nice for the taxpayers of today.

I don't believe we have to choose between "act like a corporation" and "run up impossible debts for future generations". You are right that pre-funding benefits is good, but the sabotage I'm referring to is pretending the postal service is a business, changing its financial obligations without changing its service obligations, and then complaining that it's "losing money". A government service does not need to make a profit, and talking about "profits" at all is nonsensical. How many billions do public libraries lose every year? How many trillions does the military? If it makes a profit, it's probably not doing its job.

> but the sabotage I'm referring to is pretending the postal service is a business, changing its financial obligations without changing its service obligations, and then complaining that it's "losing money".

I agree with that, the USPS should be allowed to set prices (and service levels) if it’s supposed to break even.

That law passed with near unanimous bipartisan support and the only people that voted against it in the house were Republicans.

Technically I just said the articles blamed Republicans, which is true, but yes the articles were wrong and so am I. I should have just said Congress.

There has also been a pretty dramatic change in mail volume over the years.

I'd rather service get subsidized than gutted, but I don't think politics are the only driver of change.

There has been a change in volume... but it's going down. 168 billion in 2011 vs 129 billion in 2020 [1].

[1] https://facts.usps.com/table-facts/

More specifically, letter volume has been going down and parcel volume has been going up. Basically, there's been a huge shift in what the US Postal Service actually does, and their ability to cope with it has not been helped by - for example - the media creating partisan conspiracy theories about reducing the number of sorting machines that can physically only sort letters to rebalance their infrastructure being an evil right-wing conspiracy to destroy the postal service.

"it works" is however simply not good enough; it's a service that should NEVER decline. To quote the USPS' own motto: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." They take donkeys down canyons to serve isolated communities.

Unfortunately that’s not their motto. AFAIK they don’t have a motto. It’s just some thing someone put on a federal building. It does make an awesome motto though.

I feel like this is becoming less certain. I have had multiple packages undelivered in recent months. And many more times I have had things arrive late to the point where they were no longer needed.

I run a small side business which ships physical goods and I've been seeing similar issues with the "flat rate" priority shipping service from the USPS. These packages are supposed to be delivered to anywhere in the US in 2 to 3 days. When I drop off the box, they will label it with 2-day or 3-day. Since about mid-summer of 2020, those labels are aspirational. I've been tracking by taking to customers I know and the on-time delivery rate is well below 50%. It is not uncommon for 3-day shipments to take 7 days.

Mail issues can also be aggrevated by local policies. I know a former regional postmaster from Wisconsin. I've since learned that during the Scott Walker years, they changed the service in WI so that all mail in the entire state is sorted in Milwaukee. So if I'm up in NW WI and I send a letter to someone a town over, the mail needs to be driven all the way across the state to Milwaukee, sorted there, and then driven all the way back. He says it's making what use to be a 1-day delivery into 3+.

Not sure why you're bringing up Scott Walker, unless it's to take a political cheap shot. The state of Wisconsin is not in the mail business.

I was motivated enough to google the topic as I have WI relatives.

It seems mail the south is sent to Milwaukee, then split the north down the middle and send to Minneapolis or Green Bay

In the process of googling this up, I found some interesting information thats not being discussed... the post office presentations about this topic indicate over the last two decades first class mail volume has decreased about 70%, whereas junkmail has remained about the same. So much as organizations experience growing pains, it seems incredibly likely they will experience shrinking pains.

Certainly, as an older gen-x I remember spending like $5 per month on postage to send hand written personal checks to pay computer generated and mailed bills. Must have been paying ten monthly bills. Now, of course, that's all online and I write single digit of checks per year and use so little postage I now buy individually at time of use.

This isn’t just the postal service being neglected. The entire global supply chain took a supply hit in COVID at the same time that demand went through the roof. UPS and FedEx struggle too.

My side business in Wisconsin uses USPS too. For many years I found that regular first class mail was just as fast if not faster than priority mail, with the added benefit of charging by the ounce for packages under a pound.

Meanwhile, I'm also working my day job from home, so I get a lot of stuff delivered, and from what I can tell all of the delivery services have delays right now. This includes DigiKey and Mouser, two of the most reliable suppliers on the planet.

I'm not sure Scooter is responsible for this one.

That’s strange as everything around here gets sorted in St Paul. Mail used to be sorted at the local post office (many still have the “local” and “long-distance” mail slots but they go into the same bucket) but even now they usually route to the closest sorting facility.

Maybe the very NW is lucky and can use St Paul. I know that places like Madison and Plattville go to MKE and back. It seems we did indeed close the Madison sorting facility in '14 as well as other supporting regional facilities. As part of this Eau Claire moved their ops to St Paul. https://madison.com/wsj/business/u-s-postal-service-to-close...

Thanks for the info!

There was that whole situation with people voting by mail in unprecedented numbers and an ongoing generation defining pandemic that resulted in a shift from retail to online shopping. On top of continued attacks on the USPS by politicians training for lobbying careers.

I operate a DTC company in the Boston area and send thousands of packages every year.

Even the tracked Priority Mail packages have delays. The system promises 2-3 day delivery (and that's what customers are told during checkout, no way to change it) but it's often longer than that, particularly for larger/odd-shaped packages such as the long Priority Mail tubes.

In New England, a lot of problems can be traced to COVID outbreaks among USPS staff in processing centers. It was especially bad starting in November and continuing through February.

At one point the Post Office stopped scanning parcels (for us, in mid-December) and huge backlogs built up across the system. We heard from our USPS business rep in Boston that 200 workers were out sick at the giant processing facility in Nashua NH, leading to trucks arriving at the parking lot that couldn't be unloaded. They switched to processing Priority Mail at the facility in South Boston and everything else in Stamford CT, but they weren't able to work through the Nashua backlog until January. One Priority Mail parcel we shipped on Nov 30 that was supposed to be "3-day delivery" arrived at its destination in Kentucky 45 days later, on Jan. 13.

The post holiday COVID surge affected many entities. It’s a viscous cycle, a quarantine in Nashua breaks a process in San Diego!

I probably had 50% of my on-site people quarantined during that period, and every vendor was impacted. IIRC, 90% of orders were delivered late.

I believe that backup happened at multiple throughout the country, honestly. I had 2 packages, one to San Diego and one to Atlanta. Both have yet to arrive and both were mailed early December. I'm still getting monthly "we're looking but haven't found them yet" emails from them.

I read awhile back (but can't find the source anymore, so grin of salt) that when USPS processing centers get overwhelmed they switch from a queue based system to FIFO. Which would make sense that some packages have been lost for months while newer ones seem to be going through the system just fine.

> I read awhile back (but can't find the source anymore, so grin of salt) that when USPS processing centers get overwhelmed they switch from a queue based system to FIFO.

queue and FIFO are the same; from context it sounds like you mean LIFO.

Yep, guess I don't need to comment before my morning coffee.

I also operate a DTC company and ship similar volume.

8 years ago, when we started, we shipped exclusively in tubes. The loss rate with USPS was somewhere between 5-10%, it was too painful to measure exactly. I switched to a custom-sized "ear lock mailer" rectangular style box, and lost rates dropped below 1%.

My theory was that the cylinder shape was rolling off of some sorting line / conveyor, or possibly the tubes required a different (maybe manual) scan that had a much higher failure rate.

So I don't ship in tubes with USPS anymore (UPS and FedEx don't have same issue).

I recently thought a tubed item I ordered was lost in shipment. I found it 2 weeks later in the bushes where the mailman apparently thought was a good place to stash it.

Maybe it rolled in there? Or the delivery agent didn't want it to roll off the stoop, so stuck it in there?

Either way, shapes that can roll are not the best choice for items we want to stay stationary!

As much as I enjoy always pointing out things that we do better in the EU, unfortunately the situation here is opposite. Sending a letter from say Germany to France is a complete black box. Even with all the "priority" /airmail whatever stamps it takes 2-3 weeks on average. I understand this is different countries and all, but courier companies have it figured out. I could send a parcel with UPS from Poland to Spain using their cheapest Standard service and it will arrive in 2-3 days. Send the same parcel with national mail and it's any amount of time, with very little reliable tracking.

We could cross-examine but as far I am concerned every package I ordered (one) from France to Belgium came in less than a week. I thought it'd take longer but I was wrong.

You choose the one single example where this doesn't apply: If you mail any letter from Germany to anywhere else, don’t just use a regular stamp (0,80€) but use certified mail (between 3 and 4€) and you’ll have a tracking code, and it’ll arrive in france within of 24h (because then it’ll just be delivered as parcel by DHL, which is owned by the german mail service)

Anecdotal, but I had to deal with sending items from Germany to Italy. They never came and I was not able to track them once they entered Italian postal service.

The problem is that all over, post services have become privatized; it's commercial entities that squeeze their employees dry to maximize profits. They subcontract some things like packages to companies with even worse track records, gig economy type delivery companies where it's a random guy in their personal car with a boot full of packages.

The commercial package companies like UPS, Fedex, DHL, etc still have a better track record, but that too depends - a package from the UK was stuck in Brexit limbo for three months before finally arriving, battered by going around the carousel in the sorting / customs center and being sent back and forth.

Deprivatize the mail. Make it a respectable service again, with uniformed, unionized and full-time personnel. It doesn't have to be profitable, it's critical infrastructure. Have those that abuse it - e.g. junk mail sent with an address to avoid the 'no junk mail' stickers - pay extra.

And in the US, it's the post that connected the country; mail was THE biggest factor in the creation of things like stage coach services, the railway network, and commercial flights which other industries could latch onto. It should be treated with the same budgets and respect as e.g. the highway network. Defund the military and they could pay for the world's greatest postal service ten times over. If done right, it would put an end to the malpractices that companies like Uber and Amazon are trying to do with their employees.

Postal services in my country are not private, but fully state owned and managed, but they are the worst service we have vs private alternatives. And yes, we have unions to cover for employees that know they are hired for life regardless their lack of performance. The solution for many of us was to go online for most of the transactional stuff and use private services for packages.

Perhaps the USPS is less efficient than it used to be, but we can't ignore the pandemic's effect; it's not limited to just USPS. Both Fedex and UPS suspended their on-time guarantees last March, and only a few weeks ago did they restore any of them, and that's only for a small subset of their services (guarantee still suspended for ground deliveries)

In addition is seems as if UPS has dropped the detail records they expose on the tracking. So now in their tracking UI there is just the origin and estimated date of delivery - nothing in between. I've been curious as to why they did that.

It's still available, but only to the account owner. You have to log in first.

I don't know if you heard, but under Trump's regime they removed sorting machines in an attempt to undermine the USPS and mail-in voting last year.

Maybe they removed sorting machines because they don't help with parcels, which are an increasingly large majority of USPS's work.

No. It was definitely an act of deliberate sabotage. It’s well-documented.

The USPS is seeing fewer letters and more parcels.

Letter sorting machines are not helpful to deliver parcels.

Therefore, the USPS should replace some percentage of letter sorting machines with infrastructure suitable for sorting parcels.

The American media certainly spun it as an act of deliberate sabotage, but that has nothing to do with whether it actually was - they spun almost everything done by the Trump administration as one regardless of the actual evidence (plus a few things which had nothing to do with Trump, his administration, or even in some cases the federal government at all, if they could convince people otherwise).

In this case, it would 100% have been a non-story if it happened under any other president - the USPS were just reducing their letter sorting capacity because they've seen a massive, long-running reduction in letter volume, and I believe they'd been doing this under the previous administration too. Hell, if it wasn't in aid of the side the mainstream press supported, there'd probably be endless headlines about how these claims were endangering democracy by undermining trust in the election. (Especially the really ludicrous claims, like taking a pile of postboxes outside a company with a long-running contract to refurbish them and claiming it was part of an attempt to sabotage the election by stopping people voting by post...) Remember all the headlines after Trump lost?

No, I'm well aware of that, and have plenty of strong opinions about that. However, I don't think that's the only issue, so I tried to avoid going there.

I was looking at some NBA history and naturally Karl Malone ended up in my list of people to look at (there's a video about how him and Stockton somehow didn't win the championship, despite being quite good).

Dude's nickname was "The Mailman", which I wondered about.

Turns out they used to say "The Mailman always delivers", so actually it was a compliment at the time. I think reputations change slowly, but this one had gotten to where I could no longer recognize the original intent.

At 55c to send anywhere in the US I think it is not a bad service. I have to pay the equivalent of 1.10 USD (1.00 CHF) to send a letter "First Class" (A-Post) inside a tiny country (Switzerland) almost the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.

Edit: Corrected price

But I'll bet it gets there in a reasonable time frame. I just received a check sent "2 day priority mail" -- took 14 days, and spent most of them stuck in a mail sorting facility.

Here in Denmark it's 1.78 USD to mail a letter, and that's delivered within 5 days. Next day delivery is 4.7 USD.

I reasonably trust it'll get delivered on time, but I haven't tested it.

This is letter pricing, for packages the private options are usually cheaper.

"A-Post" is 1.00 CHF, not 1.20 CHF. Still more expensive, though (but way cheaper than the huge prices quoted for Denmark below!).

Ah, you're right, not sure what I was thinking. It's 1.30 if it's a thicker envelope.

Mind you, Switzerland is a bit more wealthy than the US, and what is the cost of "not first class but regular post" over there?

Under 100g is 0.93 USD (0.85 CHF) for B-Post.

Even just two years ago, I could count on first class mail always arriving within 3 days, it just happened, so reliably you never doubted it.

What happened?

Louis DeJoy was appointed as postmaster general. He has political and financial interests in seeing the USPS fail.


It seems more likely that he isn't up to the job and should be replaced. Political factions ensured his rise to the position knew this.

Even if you start with the assumption of incompetence over malice—this is the same guy who paid Duke $750,000 to admit his son, and has well documented conflicts of interests in his role as postmaster general. He's a political appointee for a party interested in undermining USPS while he funnels contracts to XPO, a company of which he still holds $75 million in shares. Simple unadorned corruption, that's all.

Hard to guess when not much at all has been happening over the past year.

Gonna repost this reply wherever it seems fitting:

The USPS has been legally blocked from adapting by anti-infrastructure ideologues (source https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLyU1WCQQ8A ) in order to set them up to fail.

In addition to this, recent administrations have been actively dismantling their infrastructure.

Any discussion of adaptivity or resilience is incomplete without considering these facts.

Please don't copy/paste in HN threads. It strictly lowers the signal/noise ratio.



>In addition to this, recent administrations have been actively dismantling their infrastructure.

I know it's the norm here to avoid calling out one political party in particular, but it's way past time to point out that it's overwhelmingly Republicans who are crafting regulations to ensure the post office fails and turns from a world-class institution to something that can be pointed to as an example of government failing.

As the video linked calls out, the USPS is between a rock and a hard place. They are not funded by tax dollars at all (they operate as a business), but are required to fund retirement accounts 20-30 years in the future, plus are not allow to increase rates beyond inflation. As they lose money (and have been for the last 10 years), to keep operating they are required to get a "bailout" from congress in the budget plan every year.

The post master general under Trump was trying to cut costs within the constraints placed on the USPS by congress, which is to reduce mail drop boxes and other activities. If congress wanted to invest in the USPS, they could, it just hasn't been done yet (no one seemed to agree on what that should look like).

One important part with the drop in mail volume is that the cost of mail delivery actually goes up. There are many fixed costs on delivering a letter, and if you can deliver 8 letters vs 4 letters to the same address and are forced to charge the same regardless of how many you end up delivering there, the overall delivery-cost of each letter goes up.

So either we need to let the USPS charge more for their services (to offset the reduced volume), or congress needs to decide to subsidize the USPS again to allow it to function properly.

Subsidizing would be difficult given how UPS and Fedex abuse the USPS today. (Those two carriers will push delivery to the USPS when they know its unprofitable for them to deliver any given package). So any subsidy that it provided to the USPS will also subsidize Fedex and UPS unless the rules are changed there as well.

it's actually 50 years

Dang has personally told me to avoid incendiary language and while I personally disagree with the exact definition used at hackernews, it's their playground so I'm trying to be a good citizen. But I agree

If any company provided the retirement benefits USPS does and pre-funded them in the same manner HN would hail them as saints. They would be held up as proof that BigCos don't need to act like greedy backstabbing jerks.

But because an ideologically driven congress mandated USPS fund its retirement contributions in a highly conservative way HN sees it as evil.

Frankly, I'm happy that a government institution isn't playing fast and loose with people's retirements (ask Illinois or New Jersey how that turns out). If that makes it hard to balance the books then congress should either kick in some $$ to cover the difference or let them change their rates.

The thing that's evil is exactly the part where that ideologically driven congress is also not allowing USPS to innovate or raise prices to raise the money, or to spread out the buildup of the pension fund over a longer time.

I rarely see people complain about the pension fund per se

Would you prefer that the USPS join the public pension crisis? It is not scandalous to force a public organization to fund their employee retirements. What is scandalous is the massive unfunded public pensions that are going to wallop the economy over the next 10-20 years.

To avoid dupes again, see my other reply.

I asked someone in the post office why the USPS was unprofitable and he didn't say it was political. He told me something like this:

"You can have a package from the US Virgin Islands delivered to Guam for around ten dollars".

I looked this up for a flat rate box and this is true[1].

[1]: https://postcalc.usps.com/Calculator/MailServices?country=10...

Things fell off a clif in December I had multiple pieces of mails take months to arrive. One of them was a check mailed to the next zip code over but instead made it’s way to Florida before meandering back to the nearest metro area post office. That particular mail had tracking. Once you lose faith that something sent will arrive in a timely fashion that is the beginning of the end for a mail service.

> Editors, reporters and producers at GBH News sent nearly 100 letters from different places in the metro area at various hours on the same day to correspondents of their own choosing in 38 states, creating a random sample.

That's not a representative random sample of the mail the post office delivers. It likely oversamples from long tail requests: reporters are likely to choose zanier locations, and even the fact that they're sending the mail (instead of some kind of an institution) makes for a weird sample.

Now, I don't particularly love that the modal mailing is a piece of junk, or that I have to rely on mail to receive certain kinds of institutional communications, but there's no particular reason to think the experiment revealed a failure to meet their SLO.

This isn't an accident. The USPS got partially dismantled last winter in matters related to the election, and has not been repaired since.

Reminds me of a page I found way back, where a guy tested to see just what kind of things he could get delivered through the postal service. I tried digging it up but can't find it.

He mailed a lot of things to himself, but there were two that stood out.

One was a brick, IIRC not wrapped, just taped address and stamps to it. It arrived with some delay, in a bag, smashed to pieces, likely in search of drugs.

The second was a full-sized cod or similar fish. Can't recall if he wrapped it. In either case, the fish did not arrive.

Instead he got a stern warning that if anything like that ever happened again, he wouldn't get any more mail delivered, ever...

IIRC apart from those two, most of the weird attempts were delivered successfully.

Tangentially related, but here’s the USPS page for the types of live animals that you can send through the mail!


There are probably similar pages like it but that’s always the one that comes to my mind when people talk about mailing odd things.

The USPS from time to time does do testing on delivery. I was part of a test program a few years ago where the USPS was testing the delivery of mail. They would send me addresses and postage and I was to send them from a drop box or at some times send them from the counter. The addresses were both US and domestic. I would also get letters from people around the world or in the US. Inside was just a code that I would have to go put into a website run for the USPS by IBM. As a reward I would get a booklet of stamps or a letter opener. In truth the coolest part was getting the stamps from around the world showing up in my mailbox.

Living overseas, it's always entertaining to get letters from the IRS. Especially when they say "you need to do such-and-such by Feb 15th" and you received the letter on May 1.

Someone should re-run this test with an airtag in the envelope to see where the delays are. I wonder if a few non-performing nodes are slowing down the whole system...

UPS should offer a "quote and send" system for letters, so that you type in your address and say when you want it to arrive, and they quote you a price. If it doesn't arrive by the time you said, you get a refund.

The quote system could have everything from "1 hour" for door-to-door direct courier (probably costing $50), up to "30 days" for really low priority stuff. The system would give you a barcode to print on your envelope/package instead of a stamp, and an API so it can be integrated into business processes, apps, etc.

Then use a fancy algorithm to set pricing to perfectly fill every truck, reduce load at busy times, etc.

There are plenty of people like amazon who will happily use cheap delivery capacity when there is half a truck going in some direction, and deliver by some other route/method when the truck driver is on holiday so mail is expensive.

I just read a comment[0] about a package shipped via priority taking 45 days to arrive. I can't expect this to work when they don't have funding, there's a huge backlog, among other things.

Then the problem becomes that due to shortage of people and backlogs, the prices just keep going up and up if you want it on a 'reasonable' time.

The main issue that seems to need fixing is capacity and this won't solve it. Probably overall but also seasonal due to COVID. I wish more of my taxes would go towards this (and that they switch the postmaster general).

> There are plenty of people like amazon who will happily use cheap delivery capacity when there is half a truck going in some direction, and deliver by some other route/method when the truck driver is on holiday so mail is expensive.

They do this already though. USPS is used a lot for their last mile and they have UPS and Fedex too as well as their own fleet of delivery drivers in some regions and planes and trucks for distribution around the country.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27025166

> The main issue that seems to need fixing is capacity

As evidenced by the fact the vast majority of letters are delivered, it seems capacity isn't the issue.

If there were a capacity issue, they would be falling further and further behind as letters were being posted quicker than they could be sorted and delivered.

Instead the issue is loadbalancing. Some centers have too much load, while others have spare capacity. That changes day to day, increasing delivery times.

The fix is variable pricing to get each local sort center closer and more consistently towards its capacity without exceeding it.

From https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27025496

> I read awhile back (but can't find the source anymore, so grin of salt) that when USPS processing centers get overwhelmed they switch from a queue based system to ~~FIFO~~ LIFO. Which would make sense that some packages have been lost for months while newer ones seem to be going through the system just fine.

If this is true, it could explain it. And it wouldn’t surprise me if they did to keep the majority if the system working.

This does lead to a capacity issue and explains why some might not make it while the majority did.

When your letter or package hits the bottomless pit known as the north houston facility, you just have to wait for it to come around the dark side of the moon. Basically everything in houston hits that. Makes me think of toledo too. All mail was routed to detroit and back, even if you mailed it from toledo to maumee.

I'm in the Bayou City as well and all my holiday mail arrives around the next holiday. New Year's cards were coming in around Valentines. All packages and letters appear to be "batch" delivered, regardless of when they're sent. We don't even get regular deliveries every day because supposedly there's "nothing." I imagine it's sitting in that facility you mention.

> “If it’s your paycheck and you are waiting for it, it matters a lot”

Is this a bad example or are paychecks a normal thing in US ? If yes, are they sent by mail ? I'm just curious about how this works.

Every time I read an article about money in the US, I have the feeling that a lot of money transaction (paycheck, paying your bills ...) is done by paper/mail. I'm surprised each time I read this since I never had to think about paying my bills or receiving my pay on my account.

I'm not even sure my parents ever get paid by check (like, with some sort of paper that you have to give to your bank) but here, maybe I'm wrong. And I know it can sometimes happen here for short contracts to get paid by check, but even in this use case, it's pretty rare.

If I'm right, is this more a cultural thing or some sort of technical limitation ?

While some number north of 90% of working Americans use some form of Direct Deposit to get paid, in the the US, we still use paper checks for things. For me, personally, I pay all bills I can online. There are still three things I need to write checks for, they have no online payment option at all. I pay those online through a service my bank offers, but my bank turns around and sends a paper check. Not all consumers use online bill pay services, a lot of people still get paper bills and send paper checks in response.

On top of this, something like 5-6% of Americans households don't have a bank account at all. The ones that do get paid by a steady income in this category expect to get a paycheck and cash it at a bank or check cashing service (generally with a fee).

It's a metaphorical example. Even when I received a physical paycheck years ago, it wasn't typically done in the mail.

Personally, I'm more worried as a consumer that legal notice delivery is unreliable. My storage unit (Public Storage) jacked my rent up by over 20% without notice. They claim they mailed notice, and the lease specifically has a provision that there is a presumption of delivery when things are posted via first class mail.

When I worked at the YMCA, I remember receiving my first paycheck in the mail. This was because my bank account wasn’t all the way into their system for direct deposit yet. I’m willing to bet for many places of employment, a physical paycheck is also the default. 6.5% of Americans don’t have a bank account, so they can’t do direct deposit at all. There is a good number of people who have always received a physical paycheck who haven’t gone through the process of direct deposit, such as my grandparents.


A lot of smaller employers will still do paper checks, not sure if it's because of the cost associated with having a direct deposit system. But also, a subset of people do not trust banks or are unable to have direct deposits. They usually use those check-cashing shops who give out cash for a % fee.

Is there any real competition to USPS? Or do they get their check from the government regardless of how poorly they perform?

In my own country, the government owned postal service is complete trash. Yeah, it’s almost “free”, but we’re paying for it in taxes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually costs way more than private carriers. Not to mention that the workers are incredibly lazy and rude, and opening hours are ridiculous. I’ve ordered a package which took 5 days to get here from the other side of the planet, by private carriers, and then it got stuck in the national mail service for 3 months. The seller was kind enough to resend the package, but I’m not sure if it’ll ever make it either.

What are you gonna do, choose the competitors? They still get their check.

>Is there any real competition to USPS?

I don't understand. USPS is not a business. It's civic infrastructure. There is no way any competitor will agree to delivering a letter from one end of the country to another for $0.55.

So if I understand correctly, through government subsidization and regulation it is virtually impossible to compete with USPS. What are their incentives to improve their service and reduce their costs (including taxpayer costs)?

Letters are a tiny insignificant fraction of the USPS traffic. Is it still important? Are there alternatives? That's very arguable (direct deposit; digital signature etc).

No, the USPS has the Congressional monopoly on the delivery of non-urgent letters and delivery direct to mailboxes at residential and commercial locations. They specifically do not have any competition in those cases.

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