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Postal Service says U.S. Mail volume plummets

Sadly, the data also shows most of us read our junk mail

By Mark Malseed Sep 21 2009, 12:04 AM

Delivering less and less for you

Delivering less and less for you

The United States Postal Service in 2008 saw its biggest decline in mail volume since the Great Depression, according to results just released from its latest Household Diary Study.

The 203 billion pieces of mail delivered by USPS in 2008 (fiscal year) represented a decline of 10 billion pieces from the previous year, a not-unexpected drop that nevertheless does not bode well for the already ailing agency.   

The USPS survey (pdf), which has been conducted since 1987, collects 125 data points ranging from demographics to bill payment behavior to the use of the Internet and other information technologies to give postal officials and the general public a better look at how households manage their mail. Questionnaires were sent to nearly 8,000 households to gather info about their demographics, lifestyles, and their attitudes about the mail. Those same households then receive a mail diary where they record their entire interaction with mail for one week. In 2008, the Postal Service received about 5,200 completed diaries back.

While some survey results only confirm what we can sense — that the Internet is taking business away from the postal service — other aspects of the survey give us a curious and oddly compelling look at the service that delivers rain, shine, sleet or hail. Here’s a look at some highlights:


  • Standard mail, consisting mainly of advertising pieces, began exceeding First Class mail in 2005, and continues to do so today.
  • Since 2002, personal correspondence (letters, greeting cards, invitations, etc.) has dropped almost 14%.
  • The largest users of First Class Mail advertising are financial institutions, but after they helped tank the economy in 2007, their spending on direct mail advertising dropped 10% in 2008.
  • The average number of bills paid over the Internet has increased 63% from 2006 to 2008, while Transaction mail (bill paying) has dropped by 1 billion to 41.7 billion items
  • Households received 2.7 billion packages in 2008, and sent 1 billion — up 13.6 percent over the previous year. The growth, mostly in First Class, is mainly attributed to CD/DVD rentals. 
  • 79% of households either read or scan the advertising mail sent to their house. (Dammit, that’s all the junk mailers need to hear to keep on sending it…)
  • Households with persons 55 years or older receive the largest average number of holiday greeting cards. That number is down 12% from 2006 and is expected to continue its downward trend.
  • Our current deep recession (which began in December 2007 according to the National Bureau of Economic Research) has resulted in a 4.5% decrease in total mail volumes. This is the largest volume decline since the Great Depression. 
  • Despite an increased number of mailing options, 82% of all households still patronized one of the nation’s 37,000 post offices at least once a month in 2008. 

The Post Office is expected to lose $7 billion in this fiscal year, which comes to a close Sept. 30. The USPS released a viability study in March of this year in an attempt to deal with the challenges that face them. The agency is taking steps to save money by adjusting city delivery routes, reducing staff hours, halting construction on new postal facilities, expanding energy efficiencies, reducing employee travel budgets, and renegotiating supplier contracts. But these efforts may only be postponing the inevitable.

In testimony before Congress, Postmaster General John E. Potter said, “These are extremely challenging times – for the nation and for the postal service. We have done a great deal to preserve the future of our nation's mail system. But there is more to be done and we must do it together.” Thankfully, he stopped short of urging Americans to stop using the Internet. 

With research by Jenifer Reinhardt


Read More: U.S. Postal Service (USPS), Business And Economy, Transparency


September 21, 2009 6:58 PM

This a bold faced lie as is just about everything the GOV says.

September 22, 2009 9:21 AM

It's a tad biased coming from the postal service itself. Of course they'll tell their clients that their spam gets read.

September 28, 2009 8:41 AM

I agree with the reader who said that it only benefits the USPS to say that people read junk mail. Of course, the USPS itself is conducting the survey. If it was conducted by an independent entity, like Consumer Reports(CR), people would really say that they are fedup with junk mail. Moreover, CR would rate what mail service rates better than others: USPS, FEdex, Mail Boxes, etc., UPS. What the head of the USPS is not saying is that, as much as Wall Street, the executive level bonuses (in millions) and the gigantic-n-useless managerial structure is the culprit of the spiral down of the USPS budget. Let them fall by using the internet more, US citizens! P.S. Is anyone from Consumer Reports reading this message? Take note and do something revolutionary: do a survey on mail services delivery quality and rates, and do it by surveying 10,000 citizens across the US to make it representative.












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