Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.


United States Postal Service Postmaster General Louis DeJoy departs following a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on Legislative Proposals to Put the Postal Service on Sustainable Financial Footing on Capitol Hill on February 24, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images)

Don't Abandon First-Class Postal Service

 Now more than ever the agency requires leaders who can adjust to new challenges in innovative ways while maintaining the agency's essential commitment to operating a democratic public service.   

Christopher W. Shaw

Starting with Benjamin Franklin, one postmaster general after another endeavored to speed up the U.S. Mail. In this ongoing quest to move mail faster, a series of transportation advances were eagerly adopted, from stagecoaches to steamships to railroads to airplanes. But the current postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, is pursuing a course of action that departs from the goals and aspirations of his predecessors. While previous postmasters generals sought faster mail delivery, DeJoy stands out for his wish to make it slower. Beginning this October 1, many Americans can expect permanently slower mail, especially if they live on the West Coast.   

Unfortunately, after more than one year as postmaster general, the tenure of DeJoy remains unimaginative at best and destructive at worst.

DeJoy claims that lowering service standards offers an outstanding opportunity to cut costs because hauling mail overland on trucks will prove cheaper than using air transportation. Lost in this short-term calculus is the cost to American citizens and to the health of the Postal Service in the long run. Degrading standards of service and discarding competitive advantages is not a formula for long-term relevance.

While DeJoy's actions will curtail air transportation of first-class mail, airmail as a separate class of mail actually ended back in 1977.  By that point, advances in service standards had made the category itself superfluous, since most first-class mail was being transported on airplanes. The postal system had come a long way since the pioneer transcontinental airmail service was inaugurated between New York City and San Francisco in 1920. Back then it took three and a half days for a letter to travel from coast to coast, but this was almost a day faster than the speeds that express railroads offered. Generations of Americans had witnessed a remarkable and continual improvement of the postal system.  At that time, there were older citizens who could still remember the Pony Express. President Abraham Lincoln's 1861 inaugural address had established a record when copies completed the journey from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, in a little over a week.    

By the 1950s, the Post Office has established a goal of "next-day delivery for all first-class mail in the United States."    How unlike today, when DeJoy wants to reduce the existing service standard of one to three days for first-class mail delivery to one to five days. While delivery times for a majority of the U.S. Mail will remain unchanged, DeJoy acknowledges that "some uncomfortable changes" are forthcoming, since approximately two in five pieces of mail will take longer to reach their destinations. 

In response, businesses are already pushing to shift more of their communications online. Wells Fargo bank has notified its customers that "this may delay your receipt of mail from us and our receipt of mail from you," and consequently urged them to consider "switching to online statements" and other alternatives to the Postal Service.    Ordinary citizens and small businesses are particularly reliant on single-piece mail, so such delays will fall heaviest on these groups. As more bills arrive late, increasing late fees for consumers will result, not to mention the damage to credit scores. Postal officials opted to reduce delivery standards without even studying the harmful impact on millions of Americans who lack access to broadband internet.

Although the Postal Service exists to serve everyone equally, the coming changes in delivery standards will hit certain areas of the country hardest, notably the Pacific coast. Yet westerners deserve the same first-class mail service as the rest of the nation, not second-class treatment. The Postal Service faces serious challenges arising from unique financial burdens mandated by Congress, technological changes, and decades of underinvestment in its infrastructure. Reducing service will only discourage use of the U.S. Mail. Such a course of action does not offer a sustainable path forward for the Postal Service. Unfortunately, after more than one year as postmaster general, the tenure of DeJoy remains unimaginative at best and destructive at worst. Now more than ever the agency requires leaders who can adjust to new challenges in innovative ways while maintaining the agency's essential commitment to operating a democratic public service.

Read more about this issue here.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Christopher W. Shaw

Christopher W. Shaw is the author of First Class: The U.S. Postal Service, Democracy, and the Corporate Threat (City Lights Books, 2021), and Money, Power, and the People: The American Struggle to Make Banking Democratic (University of Chicago Press, 2019). Follow him on Twitter: @chris_w_shaw

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Protesting Fuel Poverty, People Tell UK Government to 'Keep Everyone Warm This Winter'

As energy bills—and fossil fuel profits—continue to soar, demonstrators around Britain demanded immediate action from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and members of Parliament.

Kenny Stancil ·

'Turn Off the Tap on Plastic,' UN Chief Declares Amid Debate Over New Global Treaty

"Plastics are fossil fuels in another form," said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, "and pose a serious threat to human rights, the climate, and biodiversity."

Kenny Stancil ·

EPA Urged to 'Finish the Job' After Latest Move to Protect Bristol Bay From Pebble Mine

"Local residents, scientists, and the broader public all agree that this is quite simply a bad place for a mine, and it is past time for the EPA to take Pebble off the table permanently," said one activist in Alaska.

Jessica Corbett ·

'Zero Tolerance for Corruption': Grijalva, Porter Demand Answers on Alleged Trump Pardon Bribery Scheme

The Democrats believe a real estate developer donated to a Trump-aligned super PAC in exchange for the pardons of two other men.

Julia Conley ·

Millions of Americans Lack Adequate Health Coverage, But the Pentagon Has a New Nuclear Bomber to Flaunt

"This ominous death machine, with its price tag of $750 million a pop, brings huge profits to Northrop Grumman but takes our society one more step down the road of spiritual death," peace activist Medea Benjamin said of the new B-21 Raider.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo