The Postal Service has also Delivered Good Jobs

crop person putting envelope in mailbox on street

The last four decades have not been kind to those without a college education. Technology has been biased against them, lowering their wages. The lack of good jobs is making it less likely for them to get married. And, the stress and disappointment associated with these difficulties may actually be shortening their lives. And yet, a source of good jobs for these workers — the postal service — has come under attack. That’s right, everyone’s favorite political football — you know, because it helps people vote — is also a good source of employment. And while the postal service obviously hires many workers with a college education, it is among a shrinking class of good jobs for those without one.

The Postal Service Provides Good Middle-class Jobs

Good jobs have two main characteristics. They pay well. And they have good benefits. On the “pay well” portion, the picture below tells the story. The figure shows the annual median income of workers without any college education. The red line shows postal workers and the black line all workers.

Figure. Median Annual Income of Full-time, Full-year Working Men, 1975-2018

Note: Includes full-time, full-year working men without any college education. Men are shown because women’s education and work experience increased dramatically over this period, obscuring underlying patterns. Source: Author’s calculations from the University of Minnesota CPS-IPUMs data.

The message of the figure is twofold. First, postal jobs pay better than other jobs. Second, postal workers haven’t experienced the same erosion in their wages as others. In 1975, the median postal worker made a little over $66,000. By 2018, that number had dropped a bit, to a little over $60,000. But, workers in other jobs experienced a drop of nearly 30 percent…from $52,000 to $40,000. In other words, the postal service insulated at least some workers from damage done by a rapidly changing economy.

Postal work is also one of the rare jobs for workers without a college education that still provides good benefits. For example, retirement savings plans are one important benefit that workers need. And, according to the Current Population Survey, over 80 percent of postal workers without a college education had a plan. Among other similar workers, less than half had a plan. Health insurance benefits are similar. About 80 percent of postal workers had health insurance paid for by their employer. It’s just 50 percent for other workers without any college.

Part of a Pattern

The problem is, like other good jobs for middle-income men, the postal service is shrinking. At the end of the 1990s, the USPS employed nearly 800,000 workers. Today, its only 500,000. This decline has been happening since the early 2000s, and reflects both decreased demand for paper mail and increased efficiency caused by, you guessed it, technology. In other words, the decline is part of larger pattern of job loss for middle-income workers.

Here’s the thing — the decline in postal service employment has spanned three presidents, and so can hardly be chalked up solely to the Trump Administration. Then again, those other presidents didn’t actively try to undermine it. In the recent past, the postal service was one thing that everyone agreed was pretty darn good. In April 2020, 91 percent of both Democrats and Republicans approved of it. That’s the highest percent of Americans that have agreed on anything since Gallup asked people if they approved of Teddy Roosevelt’s mustache. (OK, I made that one up.) It gets a lot easier to cut something when it becomes disliked. It’s worth remembering that undermining the postal service is akin to undermining good jobs for middle-income Americans.

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