Demographic Trends in Mail Access Changes and Service, 2016-2020

April 27, 2022 (RISC-WP-22-005)

  • The Postal Service’s policies do not require consideration of a community’s demographic characteristics — such as race, ethnicity, and income — when implementing changes to mail access or evaluating service quality.
  • If the Postal Service incorporated demographic data into its analysis, management would be better informed about the potential unintended consequences of their decisions.

The Postal Service’s mission is to provide the nation with reliable, affordable, and universal mail service. The agency offers multiple types of mail access for customers to deposit mail, such as collection boxes and mailboxes. The agency also provides retail services to customers through USPS-managed post offices, Contract Postal Units, and usps.com.

In this white paper, the OIG assessed changes in the geographic distribution of collection points and retail sites, and the extent to which these changes display patterns that may have disproportionately affected populations in locations with specific racial, ethnic, and income characteristics. We also identified demographic trends in service performance scores and the volume of negative customer feedback across the U.S. Our analysis spanned fiscal year (FY) 2016 to FY 2020.

Our analysis showed that although national postal policies are consistent, their impact on different demographic groups can be unequal. For example, some geographic locations or demographic groups may experience more removals of collection boxes than others. We also observed that ZIP Codes with a high proportion of white residents or lower-income residents experienced on average better service performance than ZIP Codes with other race and income demographics. In contrast, in ZIP Codes with more Hispanic residents, service performance was lower on average.

We recommended management conduct a mail access study to identify opportunities to enhance relevant data availability and quality used in decision-making related to access changes. The mail access study would also determine whether demographic factors should be included in decision-making related to access changes.

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