Monday, April 20, 2015

Why Letter Carriers Are Not an Endangered Species

“Mail carrier” was recently named as one of the 10 worst careers in the U.S., largely because of a supposedly bleak employment outlook.

“Hiring of mail carriers has been on a steady decline with the proliferation of email and text messaging,” CareerCast said in ranking mail carrier #191 out of 200 careers. “Of all careers tracked in the 2015 Jobs Rated Report, mail carrier has the worst 10-year growth outlook.”

CareerCast’s jobs outlook was based on a U.S. Labor Department projection that the number of mail carriers would shrink by 28% from 2012 to 2022. That’s no surprise: Just about everyone knows that digital technology is making letter carriers an endangered species.

There’s just one problem with this scenario: “Just about everyone” is wrong.

The number of people delivering mail for the U.S. Postal Service is actually growing slightly.

It's true that since the end of 2012, the number of career USPS employees involved in mail delivery has dipped slightly, from 243,000 to 237,000. But the shrinkage all occurred during 2013; recent statistics show the number has stabilized or is rising slightly.

And when non-career employees like city carrier assistants (CCAs), are included, mail delivery looks like a growth field. That, plus the high turnover among CCAs, is why “We’re hiring!” signs are popping up at many post offices.

USPS statistics don’t provide apples-to-apples comparisons of non-career employee counts, but the numbers on hours worked are a good proxy. So far this year, the straight-time hours worked by all (both career and non-career) “city delivery carriers” are up 5% from two years ago, while the hours for all “rural carriers” have increased nearly 3%.

Digital technology taketh away, and . . . 
What “just about everyone,” including the Labor Department, seems to miss is that digital technology – specifically, online purchasing – is adding work for the Postal Service’s carrier force. When stuff is bought online, someone has to deliver it.

And when that delivery is to a residential address, chances are that the “final mile” is handled by a USPS letter carrier even if the package was sent via UPS or FedEx.

The Postal Service is doubling down on its unique ability to reach every residential address. It has slashed some Priority Mail prices for frequent shippers and is testing rapid delivery of everything from fresh flowers to groceries.

Outgoing Postmaster General Pat Donahoe hinted late last year that Sunday delivery of packages would soon become the norm, not just something USPS does for Amazon in select markets.

So all indications are that the number of packages delivered by letter carriers will continue growing, which is why specs for USPS’s new delivery vehicles call for more storage space. Those packages are far more labor intensive than traditional mail; Priority Mail boxes don’t end up in nice walk-sequenced trays or carrier-route bundles.

And even the labor savings from the gradual shrinkage of traditional mail mostly get canceled out by continuing growth in the number of delivery addresses.

The big threat
The big threat to employment levels for USPS carriers is possible curtailment of Saturday delivery of letters and flats. But that would put only a sizable dent – nowhere close to a 28% reduction – in letter-carrier employment levels.

And it continues to face rough going in a reluctant Congress, where members have recently been getting an earful from constituents about slow delivery.

So don’t put letter carriers on the endangered-species list just yet. (There may be good reasons to put “mail carrier” on the list of 10 worst jobs, as I'm sure some postal workers would be happy to explain, but employment prospects are not one of them.)

The moral of the story: Beware of projecting past trends into the future, especially when the recent past runs counter to those projections.

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Anonymous said... , tell me why the labor department would have statics on the USPS hiring practice, maybe they are the ones not hiring and causing problems for the postal service work force, in non replacement of attrition due to the prefunding, which can break the fair labor standards law .

Anonymous said...

Have been a carrier for 28 yrs and can say it is a very physically demanding job. The worst part is the way management treats new hires. In addition the unions are for themselves and recent contracts prove the fact. Sure wish FECA would get it's act together and protect employees who are hurt delivering under severe conditions at times. We don't look to get hurt, get it through your little brains!

Sucka said...

This is how it should go down Suckas. 5 day mail delivery with early out incentives for those eligible for early retirement. T-6 positions eliminated and move these personnel into vacant positions from early retirements. Hire additional CCA's for full parcel delivery Saturday & Sunday. Unions will be happy with more members and management will be happy with cheap labor. That's all Suckas

Anonymous said...

for anonymous, union didn't make the contract and was very disappointed in it. Arbitrator did the last contract. So what say you about not knowing what your union does and doesnt do for you. Uninformed shouldn't spread the lies to create more uninformed.

Anonymous said...

Employee numbers have gone up only because a long, long hiring freeze ended last year with the creation of low paid CCAs. For the same reason, straight time hours have increased only because OT hours have decreased. Jobs with high attrition rates are not opportunities. More hours are not being worked overall, except for perhaps Sunday delivery, whose profit margin is small, if not negative. First class mail continues declining. Until USPS changes the game radically (with new technology maybe), things will not get better for carriers.

Anonymous said...

One of the happiest days of my life is when I retired from the P.O.Retired as soon as I was eligible and before I got disabled.Most postal workers I know are hard working but the postal atmosphere is poisonous for many.