“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.”
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.
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.
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.