Consumer Complaints Indicate a Sharp Increase in US Postal System Delays, Especially for Communities of Color

Published Oct 19, 2020

WASHINGTON (October 19, 2020)—Consumer complaints show that problems with United States Postal Service (USPS) mail delivery have increased this year, and those problems are more acute in communities of color, according to new research by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

As the 2020 election approaches and more states look to voting by mail to keep voters safe and reduce crowding during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s an urgent need for reliable mail service across the country—but the evidence shows that more people are reporting problems getting the mail they need.

UCS researchers obtained data for inquiries and complaints submitted to USPS through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Researchers focused on complaints related to postal customers who have not received mail for more than two days. These complaints sharply increased in mid-March of this year, reaching an unusually high level that has continued throughout the year.

“US Postal Service employees are doing their best in a difficult situation, but the data suggest that more people are having trouble getting their mail in a timely manner, and that these problems are disproportionately hurting communities of color,” said Casey Kalman, a researcher at the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS and co-author of the new analysis.

The data showed:

  • In February, USPS received roughly 40,000 complaints about customers not receiving mail for more than two days, but that number rose to more than 80,000 in April and has not fallen below 60,000 since then.
  • From April to July 2020, the District of Columbia saw the highest number of mail delay complaints: 2.8 per 1,000 people. Nevada and Louisiana followed, each with roughly 1.2 inquiries per 1,000 people.

Not only are the number of complaints about mail delays increasing, but there are indications these problems are disproportionately impacting communities of color. Adjusting for population, people living in zip code areas in which people of color make up more than 45 percent of the population filed 50 percent more complaints related to the fact that they had not received mail in more than two days.

“The US Postal Service has been undermined for years, and we’re seeing the result now,” said Taryn MacKinney, co-author of the new analysis and a researcher at the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS. “People rely on the US Postal Service to pay their bills, get medications, and participate in the election, and more people than ever are choosing to vote by mail this year. The federal government needs to be investing now to make sure the Postal Service is working for everyone.”

MacKinney explains the threat to USPS and the implications in more depth at the UCS blog.