Employment of Postal Service workers is expected to decline
because of the increasing use of automation and electronic communication,
such as the Internet.
Keen competition is expected because the number of qualified
applicants should continue to exceed the number of job openings.
Qualification is based on an examination.
Applicants customarily wait 1 to 2 years or more after passing
the examination before being hired.
Nature of the Work
Each week, the U.S. Postal Service delivers billions of pieces
of mail, including letters, bills, advertisements, and packages.
To do this in an efficient and timely manner, the Postal Service
employs about 619,000 individuals. Most Postal Service workers
are clerks, mail carriers, or mail sorters, processors, and processing
machine operators. Postal clerks wait on customers at post offices,
whereas mail sorters, processors, and processing machine operators
sort incoming and outgoing mail at post offices and mail processing
centers. Mail carriers deliver mail to urban and rural residences
and businesses throughout the United States.
Postal Service clerks, also known as window clerks, sell
stamps, money orders, postal stationary, and mailing envelopes
and boxes. They also weigh packages to determine postage and check
that packages are in satisfactory condition for mailing. These
clerks register, certify, and insure mail and answer questions
about postage rates, post office boxes, mailing restrictions,
and other postal matters. Window clerks also help customers file
claims for damaged packages.
Postal Service mail sorters, processors, and processing machine
operators prepare incoming and outgoing mail for distribution.
These workers are commonly referred to as mail handlers, distribution
clerks, mail processors, or mail processing clerks. They load
and unload postal trucks and move mail around a mail processing
center with forklifts, small electric tractors, or hand-pushed
carts. They also load and operate mail processing, sorting, and
Postal Service mail carriers deliver mail, once it has
been processed and sorted. Although carriers are classified by
their type of route—either city or rural—duties of city and rural
carriers are similar. Most travel established routes, delivering
and collecting mail. Mail carriers start work at the post office
early in the morning, when they arrange the mail in delivery sequence.
Automated equipment has reduced the time that carriers need to
sort the mail, allowing them to spend more time delivering it.
Mail carriers cover their routes on foot, by vehicle, or a combination
of both. On foot, they carry a heavy load of mail in a satchel
or push it on a cart. In most urban and rural areas, they use
a car or small truck. Although the Postal Service provides vehicles
to city carriers, most rural carriers must use their own automobiles.
Deliveries are made house-to-house, to roadside mailboxes, and
to large buildings such as offices or apartments, which generally
have all of their tenants’ mailboxes in one location.
Besides delivering and collecting mail, carriers collect money
for postage-due and COD (cash-on-delivery) fees and obtain signed
receipts for registered, certified, and insured mail. If a customer
is not home, the carrier leaves a notice that tells where special
mail is being held. After completing their routes, carriers return
to the post office with mail gathered from street collection boxes,
homes, and businesses and turn in the mail, receipts, and money
collected during the day.
Some city carriers may have specialized duties such as delivering
only parcels or picking up mail from mail collection boxes. In
contrast to city carriers, rural carriers provide a wider range
of postal services, in addition to delivering and picking up mail.
For example, rural carriers may sell stamps and money orders and
register, certify, and insure parcels and letters. All carriers,
however, must be able to answer customers’ questions about postal
regulations and services and provide change-of-address cards and
other postal forms when requested.
Window clerks usually work in the public portion of clean, well-ventilated,
and well-lit buildings. They have a variety of duties and frequent
contact with the public, but they rarely work at night. However,
they may have to deal with upset customers, stand for long periods,
and be held accountable for an assigned stock of stamps and funds.
Depending on the size of the post office in which they work, they
also may be required to sort mail.
Despite the use of automated equipment, the work of mail sorters,
processors, and processing machine operators can be physically
demanding. Workers may have to move heavy sacks of mail around
a mail processing center. These workers usually are on their feet,
reaching for sacks and trays of mail or placing packages and bundles
into sacks and trays. Processing mail can be tiring and boring.
Many sorters, processors, and machine operators work at night
or on weekends, because most large post offices process mail around
the clock, and the largest volume of mail is sorted during the
evening and night shifts. Workers can experience stress as they
process mail under tight production deadlines and quotas.
Most carriers begin work early in the morning—those with routes
in a business district can start as early as 4 a.m. Overtime hours
are frequently required for urban carriers. A carrier’s schedule
has its advantages, however. Carriers who begin work early in
the morning are through by early afternoon and spend most of the
day on their own, relatively free from direct supervision. Carriers
spend most of their time outdoors, delivering mail in all kinds
of weather. Even those who drive often must walk periodically
when making deliveries and must lift heavy sacks of parcel post
items when loading their vehicles. In addition, carriers must
be cautious of potential hazards on their routes. Wet and icy
roads and sidewalks can be treacherous, and each year dogs attack
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Postal Service workers must be at least 18 years old. They must
be U.S. citizens or have been granted permanent resident-alien
status in the United States, and males must have registered with
the Selective Service upon reaching age 18. Applicants should
have a basic competency of English. Qualification is based on
a written examination that measures speed and accuracy at checking
names and numbers and the ability to memorize mail distribution
procedures. Applicants must pass a physical examination and drug
test, and may be asked to show that they can lift and handle mail
sacks weighing 70 pounds. Applicants for mail carrier positions
must have a driver’s license and a good driving record, and must
receive a passing grade on a road test.
Jobseekers should contact the post office or mail processing
center where they wish to work to determine when an exam will
be given. Applicants’ names are listed in order of their examination
scores. Five points are added to the score of an honorably discharged
veteran and 10 points are added to the score of a veteran who
was wounded in combat or is disabled. When a vacancy occurs, the
appointing officer chooses one of the top three applicants; the
rest of the names remain on the list to be considered for future
openings until their eligibility expires—usually 2 years after
the examination date.
Relatively few people become postal clerks or mail carriers on
their first job, because of keen competition and the customary
waiting period of 1 to 2 years or more after passing the examination.
It is not surprising, therefore, that most entrants transfer from
New Postal Service workers are trained on the job by experienced
workers. Many post offices offer classroom instruction on safety
and defensive driving. Workers receive additional instruction
when new equipment or procedures are introduced. In these cases,
workers usually are trained by another postal employee or a training
Postal clerks and mail carriers should be courteous and tactful
when dealing with the public, especially when answering questions
or receiving complaints. A good memory and the ability to read
rapidly and accurately are important. Good interpersonal skills
also are vital, because mail distribution clerks work closely
with other postal workers, frequently under the tension and strain
of meeting dispatch or transportation deadlines and quotas.
Postal Service workers often begin on a part-time, flexible basis
and become regular or full time in order of seniority, as vacancies
occur. Full-time workers may bid for preferred assignments, such
as the day shift or a high-level nonsupervisory position. Carriers
can look forward to obtaining preferred routes as their seniority
increases. Postal Service workers can advance to supervisory positions
on a competitive basis.
The U.S. Postal Service employed 75,000 clerks; 335,000 mail
carriers; and 209,000 mail sorters, processors, and processing
machine operators in 2004. Most of them worked full time. Most
postal clerks provided window service at post office branches.
Many mail sorters, processors, and processing machine operators
sorted mail at major metropolitan post offices; others worked
at mail processing centers. The majority of mail carriers worked
in cities and suburbs, while the rest worked in rural areas.
Postal Service workers are classified as casual, part-time flexible,
part-time regular, or full time. Casuals are hired for 90 days
at a time to help process and deliver mail during peak mailing
or vacation periods. Part-time flexible workers do not have a
regular work schedule or weekly guarantee of hours but are called
as the need arises. Part-time regulars have a set work schedule
of fewer than 40 hours per week, often replacing regular full-time
workers on their scheduled day off. Full-time postal employees
work a 40-hour week over a 5-day period.
Employment of Postal Service workers is expected to decline through
2014. Still, many jobs will become available because of the need
to replace those who retire or leave the occupation. Those seeking
jobs as Postal Service workers can expect to encounter keen competition.
The number of applicants should continue to exceed the number
of job openings because of the occupation’s low entry requirements
and attractive wages and benefits.
A small decline in employment is expected among window clerks
over the 2004-14 projection period. Efforts by the Postal Service
to provide better service may somewhat increase the demand for
window clerks, but the demand for such clerks will be offset by
the use of electronic communication, such as the Internet, and
private delivery companies. Employment of mail sorters, processors,
and processing machine operators is expected to decline because
of the increasing use of automated materials handling equipment
and optical character readers, barcode sorters, and other automated
A small decline in employment among mail carriers is expected
through 2014. Competition from alternative delivery systems and
the increasing use of electronic communication are expected to
influence the demand for mail carriers. In addition, the Postal
Service is moving toward more centralized mail delivery, such
as the use of cluster boxes, to cut down on the number of door-to-door
deliveries. The best employment opportunities for mail carriers
are expected to be in less urbanized areas as the number of addresses
to which mail must be delivered continues to grow, especially
in fast growing rural areas. However, increased use of the “delivery
point sequencing” system, which allows machines to sort mail directly
by the order of delivery, should reduce the amount of time that
carriers spend sorting their mail, allowing them more time to
handle longer routes.
The role of the Postal Service as a government-approved monopoly
continues to be a topic of debate. Any legislative changes that
would privatize or deregulate the Postal Service might affect
employment of all its workers. Employment and schedules in the
Postal Service fluctuate with the demand for its services. When
mail volume is high, full-time employees work overtime, part-time
workers get additional hours, and casual workers may be hired.
When mail volume is low, overtime is curtailed, part-timers work
fewer hours, and casual workers are discharged.
Median annual earnings of Postal Service mail carriers were $44,450
in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $37,590 and
$50,580. The lowest 10 percent had earnings of less than $31,980,
while the top 10 percent earned more than $54,240. Rural mail
carriers are reimbursed for mileage put on their own vehicles
while delivering mail.
Median annual earnings of Postal Service clerks were $40,950
in 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $37,880 and $44,030.
The lowest 10 percent had earnings of less than $36,040, while
the top 10 percent earned more than $50,510.
Median annual earnings of Postal Service mail sorters, processors,
and processing machine operators were $39,430 in 2004. The middle
50 percent earned between $36,240 and $42,620. The lowest 10 percent
had earnings of less than $24,290, while the top 10 percent earned
more than $44,540.
Postal Service workers enjoy a variety of employer-provided benefits
similar to those enjoyed by Federal Government workers. The American
Postal Workers Union, the National Association of Letter Carriers,
the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, and the National Rural
Letter Carriers Association together represent most of these workers.
Other occupations with duties similar to those of Postal Service
clerks include cashiers; counter and rental clerks; file clerks;
and shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks. Others with duties
related to those of Postal Service mail carriers include couriers
and messengers, and truck drivers and driver/sales workers. Occupations
whose duties are related to those of Postal Service mail sorters,
processors, and processing machine operators include inspectors,
testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers, and material moving
Sources of Additional Information
Local post offices and State employment service offices can supply
details about entrance examinations and specific employment opportunities
for Postal Service workers.
Source: Bureau of
Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition