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Mail: The American Jobs Machine

"The Postal Service," says the Washington Post, "has about 738,000 employees, relies on revenue from operations rather than taxpayer funding and is one of few federal bureaucracies with which most Americans have regular contact. It is at the center of a $900 billion mailing industry, which employs 9 million people in such businesses as direct mail, paper manufacturers and printers." (See: Postal Services Finances Bleak, March 23, 2004)

At first it might seem surprising: If the Postal Service has some 738,000 employees -- the nation's second largest employer after Wal-Mart -- how is it possible that the mailstream creates 9 million jobs?

The Postal Service reaches 140 million delivery points nationwide. There is no organization which offers a service of similar scale, including service to rural and distant locations. To maintain this system requires a huge number of people and facilities which are constantly in place, including 37,579 offices, stations and branches, facilities visited by more than 7 million people each business day.

In some sense the Postal Service is like an oil pipeline: It carries a vast amount of material which leads to the creation of other products and services.

  • A charity sends out 100,000 letters to raise money for a given cause, a proven approach to fund raising. Money is now available for programs, staffing and facilities.
  • A local pizza shop sends out 1,000 coupons to nearby homes. The result is an increase in business -- which also means someone sold more flour, tomato paste and toppings.
  • Two million copies of a catalog are distributed nationwide. Orders roll in and now small businesses in 20 states receive orders which otherwise would not have existed. These businesses, in turn, buy equipment and hire people.

Economists tell us that the creation of one job leads to additional demand and consumption. The federal government has calculated a "multiplier" for various businesses and industries and using such data it's possible to see how the major components of the mail and paper communities create jobs across the country.

For example, a 2003 study by the American Forest & Paper Association shows that more than 9 million jobs are associated with the mailstream. (For a detailed list of job categories used in the AF&PA study, press here.)

Separately, in its 2002 Transformation Plan, the Postal Service said that the "core mailing industry, generating an estimated $871 billion in commerce annually, employs nearly 9 million workers. The mail's economic impact on a state-by-state basis is substantial, ranging from $372 million in Wyoming to more than $62 billion in California. The annual impact is less than $1 billion in only two states. By comparison, the smallest Fortune 500 company has revenues of $3.2 billion. For most states, the mailing industry has an economic effect equivalent to one or more Fortune 500 companies." (Appendix C-3)

Could there be more than 9 million jobs associated with the mails? You bet.

The most recent survey of mail and jobs, a study completed in 2004 through the Institute for Postal Studies of the Envelope Manufacturers Foundation, found more than 11 million jobs related to mail. The study, entitled Postal Reform and Jobs, as well as specific employment figures by congressional district are both available online:

What do these numbers mean for households on your street?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, civilian employment included 138,298,000 workers as of March, 2004. This means that postal-related employment represents one of every 15 jobs nationwide

Economically, we are a nation with a $10.6 trillion economy according to the Commerce Department. The $900 billion in products and services associated with the mailstream represents 8.5 percent of the entire economy -- more than the gross domestic product of such nations as Australia, Saudi Arabia, or Turkey.

So the next time someone says that mail is "unnecessary" or that we somehow have "too much" mail, look down your street and imagine one of every 15 workers without a job.