The Postal Service crisis of 2020 caught many off guard with its mysterious removal of post office boxes, uncertainty about voting by mail; the Postmaster General becoming a name on everyone’s lips. The mail slowdown, which at this point has lasted over two months, has pushed many Americans into suddenly studying the United States Postal Service’s (USPS) every move.
Nancy Pindus, of the Urban Institute, has been a student of the Postal Service. Pindus is the lead author of a 2011 Urban Institute study commissioned by the Postal Regulatory Commission, an independent regulatory agency that oversees the USPS. Titled “Measuring the Social Value of the Postal Service,” the purpose of the assignment was to both study the economic benefits of the USPS and how it helps the communities it serves. Crucially, this includes ways beyond just delivering the mail.
“These things don’t go away,” Pindus tells Inverse. “There’s so little else that’s been done, people are calling me now for a study that’s 10 years old.”
The study breaks down the USPS benefits into eight separate, measurable categories. These range from those that fit with the USPS mission, like economic benefits and civic pride, and others that are more surprising. The environmental benefits of the USPS, for example, are often missed.
To understand how USPS can have environmental benefits, it’s important to understand the size of its scope. There are 42,000 zip codes in America, and delivering to all them, not to mention overseas military bases and territories like American Samoa and Puerto Rico, amounted to 1.34 billion miles of travel by the USPS in 2019.