United States Postal Service mailboxes are disappearing from street corners. But let’s be clear. The removal of mailboxes is not widespread, it did not start recently, and it is not an attempt at voter suppression ahead of the 2020 election cycle.
There has been a significant decline in mail volume as fewer Americans send letters and cards or utilize alternative delivery services for packages. USPS mailboxes in many areas have simply outlived their usefulness making the remaining boxes even more costly to maintain.
USPS is in dire need of reforms to stay afloat. Removing low-usage mailboxes or clustering mailboxes in high-traffic areas such as shopping centers are common-sense ways to boost efficiency and save money. We need more of these reforms.
Pictures of mailboxes loaded onto flatbed trucks in Portland, Manhattan, and other areas have populated social media recently sparking outrage. Users are linking the mailbox removals to voter suppression ahead of the 2020 election cycle. (Not all of these photos are true. A photo is circulating the web but it dates back to 2016.)
This uproar comes at a time when Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called back to Washington a recessed House of Representatives to negotiate a deal on USPS funding.
What many Americans don’t realize is that the USPS has been removing or relocating mailboxes for over the past eight years.
According to a report by the post service’s Inspector General (IG) back in 2017:
Nationwide, there were about 153,000 collection boxes at the end of fiscal year (FY) 2016; however, the U.S. Postal Service has been removing underused boxes, with about 14,000 boxes removed over the past five years. Postal Service policy requires approval by the Area and public notification in order to permanently remove a collection box.
Perhaps your neighborhood mailbox was removed and you weren’t alerted to the change. It did not matter until you began searching for the familiar mailbox on a specific corner and found out it was gone.
The IG report noted that this was a concern.
Our analysis of 205 statistically sampled boxes showed that 113 (55 percent) were permanently removed from the street without area approval and 102 of those (50 percent) were removed without public notification.
The big issue for the post-service is declining mail volume. Mail volume fell from $171 billion in 2010 to $143 billion in 2019 with single-piece mail falling almost by half (to 17 million from 29 million) while nearly 1 million destination points have been added.
The pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. USPS spokesman Ernie Swanson explained:
The reason we’re doing it is because of declining mail volume… Ever since the pandemic came along, people are mailing less for some reason.
Email, text messaging, online gifts and bill paying, social media, and other online tools have reduced the demand for mail service. Unfortunately, that means it drives the costs of mail service higher.
The USPS has said it will delay any more mailbox removals until after the election cycle. That’s fine, but will not and should not stop the long-term reform to mailboxes. Because of technology, the blue metal boxes that once were neighborhood fixtures may go the way of the payphone. That’s not a problem, it’s progress.
However, those complaining about mailbox removals should ask themselves about the last time they actually used one.