The Mailman Index of Economic Indicators

How much does your mailman know about your financial health? Quite a bit, as discovered by National Public Radio’s Chana Joffe-Walt on a recent ride-along.

If you live in a neighborhood hard hit by the financial crisis, chances are your mailman is seeing a spike in overdraft letters, collection notices, and overdue utility bills. Another bad sign: more names on fewer mailboxes — a hint that families and friends are doubling up to save money.

Your mailman is probably also seeing a drop-off in the number of unsolicited credit card offers as the credit crisis deepens.

That’s also bad news for your mailman. The overall volume of mail delivered by the U.S. Postal Service fell 5.5 percent for the third quarter of 2008, due in large part to the economic slowdown, with further shrinkage predicted in coming months. That’s driven down U.S.P.S. revenues enough that the service is considering laying off workers for the first time in its history.


Still waiting for the slowdown here. We still get two or three credit offers a week.


Interesting metric on the economy of the neighborhood. Though I don't weep for the USPS given that it's:

- a union give-away. When Saturday mail is useless and in general mail is 90% crap, why does it need to be delivered 6 days a week? Why do new subdivisions have to put mailboxes on the street when the other end of the street that's been there for 20 years get's door-to-door deliverY? Answer: the postal worker union.

- a corporate welfare give-away. Bulk rate only benefits the advertising pimps that use forests worth of paper that I get burdened with recycling or throwing away.

I figure if the USPS wasn't afraid to really cut jobs and waste and bring its rates into the 21st century, mail could be delivered 3 days per week.


I have a general economic indicator for a town of 30,000 or so, since I live within a block of a local high school. When I first moved there (1994), I found that many school day mornings my and surrounding streets' parking spaces were quite full. Even marginal spaces, overlapping a bit with the yellow curb were used, as well as some clever and considerate youth parking so close as to make getting to work problematic (save the proper parking precautions in the evening). Many of these cars were not 'clunkers' or very used hand-me-downs.

In 2002, spaces were not so dear in the morning and many more students seemed to be carpooling or riding the bus. The trend was slightly back toward the more crowded level by 2006, but not nearly achieved. However, I notice that this year's crop shows dramatically more available morning spaces, even more than in 2002. However, there seem to be a bit more cars parked on the street in the evenings and weekend.

I leave it as an exercise for the student to speculate as to the detailed causes of the observational data.


Marc Resnick

My job often involves being served with subpoenas. I use the process servers as my indicator. Every time I am served, I ask them about the trend in foreclosure notices they are delivering. Unfortunately, the number is still rising, at least in Miami.


I, too, noticed a drop in junk mail, but its been supplanted by political flyers jammed in my door handle.


"Having a lot of Junk Mail is not the solution...."

The point of my comment was to show that the decrease in the volume of Junk Mail apparently has repercussions elsewhere, it does not exist in a vacuum.

I hate wasting paper and having to sift through piles of garbage as much as anyone else.

I was just very surprised at how much the timely delivery of my Periodical (and others) depended on the volume of "junk" mail in the system.

I already have a "First Class" mailing option available to those that want it, unfortunately few people take advantage of it.


I've gotten maybe two or three unsolicited credit card offers in the last couple of months. Not long ago there would be that many in a single week. Needless to say, I'm not complaining.


"overall volume of mail delivered by the U.S. postal Service fell 5.5 percent" if you consider the volume of paper saved.

Consequences of the economic slowdown on energy consumption or wastes produced should be monitored.

Rance Spergl

95% of my mail is junk. Not only wasted paper, but wasted energy from the person who designed it, the printer who produced it and the person who delivered it. I throw it out unopened.

I've tried to make it stop completely but it won't. I pay my bills online now. The Post Office must change.


While the junk mail has gone down in volume I have noticed another problem that has emerged because of it (apparently).

Periodicals that used to take a week to 10 days to be delivered now take 3-4 weeks. These are magazines and periodicals that are either mailed Periodical Rate or "Standard" (used to be called BULK).

I have spoken with several publishers of magazines that do not have the economies of scale that TIME magazine does and they have noticed the same thing. Apparently when there is a lot of Junk Mail, this stuff does not sit on docks and in trucks for long, as the trucks fill up and then they move the stuff to their respective "drop" points across the country.

Less Junk Mail means that more of these Periodicals (one of which I publish!) just sit and wait until there is enough "Bulk" class mail to make for an efficient trip.

This does not affect First Class mail, but that is 3X as costly.

Half our subscriber base does NOT use a computer on a regular basis, if at all, so electronic distribution is not the solution (at this time).

So as much as I hate to say it, I hope the Junk Mail rises as my Periodical apparently rides on the back of this wave of garbage and right now it is the only way I can get it delivered in timely and cost-effective manner.



Since our mail is often delivered by a person of the female persuasion, the correct term is "mail carrier." And yep, many fewer offers of FREE credit, and NO INTEREST home loans. I was so tired of throwing out half my mail unopened.


To Jim, comment number 4.

Having a lot of Junk Mail is not the solution. think of the waste and pollution created by it. a successful mass mailing campaign receives a 1-2% response (may be even up to 10% for highly targeted ones) that leaves 90% of the campaign as garbage that goes to a landfill.

you need to think about your business in a different way, you need to be part of the solution!

Avi Rappoport

Just want to echo #1: letter carrier is a fine title, no reason to be gratuitously sexist here.


As someone who builds response models to determine who gets direct mail offers from my clients, I've always beleived you can learn a lot about a person by what kind of junk mail hits their box.


Maybe the post office should cut down to every-other-day delivery... I can't imagine that anyone would notice their snail mail taking an extra day to be delivered. I would just be worried about the extra storage necessary to hold twice as much mail on a daily basis.


As a postmaster, I am no fan of the unions, but Karl’s blaming all problems on organized labor misses the mark. I work in a rural area where the Saturday mail is the most eagerly awaited of the entire week. Perhaps 90% of his mail is "crap" but I have customers whose businesses depend on getting checks in the mail--everyday, not 3 days a week as you advocate.

“Bulk rate mail only benefits advertising pimps”---You mean like the local fire companies, scout troops and food banks that depend on bulk mailing to raise funds?

The letter carrier's union would absolutely love to provide door-to door delivery since it would require many more carriers! We have a mandate to operate as efficiently as possible in order to contain costs and keep postage affordable. Fact is, we have cut jobs and will continue to do so as the mail volume declines. Unlike Karl, I don’t see the loss of jobs as something to celebrate.

For over 230 years, the Post Office has adapted to social and technological changes unimaginable to Ben Franklin. We will continue to evolve in order to provide the service that Americans --Karl not withstanding-- depend on.