How Misinformation is Bad News for USPS

It’s surprising to see all the ‘news analysis’ that spotlights similarities between the financial troubles of the USPS and the US Government as a whole.

The trouble is that most of the analogies just aren’t true.

Yes, it may be true that the US Government does spend more than it receives, has not really made significant cuts to its large workforce, and hasn’t made full use of technology to drive down costs.

But none of those things are true about the US Postal Service.

As discussed in more detail in a previous post, the financial problems of the USPS are tied to a Congressional mandate that requires the USPS to pre-fund its healthcare insurance for future retirees at a draconian rate amounting to $5.5 billion per year.

Why all the misinformation?  By mis-stating that the USPS has more expenses than revenues, the analyst is trying to make an argument that the USPS is bloated or defunct, and needs cuts or face bankruptcy.

But when all the facts are presented, it becomes clear that the problem can be solved by addressing the Congressional mandate.

By ignoring this fact, the analyst draws us to the wrong conclusion.  And deprives us — leaders and voters — of the information that we need to guide us to the right solution.

From my brief look around, I’ve come up with four common arguments that ‘analysts’ make about the USPS financial problems where they conveniently leave out the facts about the Congressional mandate.  The motives for leaving it out could be expedience or ignorance; although, as you might sense in the last argument, politics could also play a role.

Here are those four arguments:

USPS as Microcosm of US Government

“Both USPS and the federal government have failed to adapt to changing times. The explosion of affordable information technology and Web-based communication tools have revolutionized the private sector, boosting productivity and allowing for leaner, more dynamic organizations. But the labor-intensive Postal Service business model has changed little over the decades, and the federal government shows a similar unwillingness to change how it does business.”  Postal Service problems a microcosm of entire government (3/18/2012: Federal Times)

The Federal Times article above is a good example of ‘news analysis’ that uses the “USPS/US-Govt” analogy but mis-states the facts along the way.  Not only does it not mention the Congressional mandate, it is plain wrong about USPS technology development and workforce trends.   Fact is the USPS is a leader in updating its facilities with computers and automation; and it has been steadily downsizing its workforce for years.

A Demand Problem

“In a time where instant messaging, texting, and email allow us to communicate across the globe in a matter of seconds, the idea of sitting down to write a letter seems foreign to many. And the USPS is feeling the heat, so much so that it is headed for default later this year unless Congress lends a helping hand.”  U.S. Postal Service nearing bankruptcy as email asserts its dominance (9/2011: Yahoo Technology Blog)

The Yahoo article also glosses over the facts to make its point (‘alas, tech beats the USPS’).

Yes, we now communicate electronically and this has impacted USPS revenue.  But the USPS has addressed those issues by driving down its costs proportionally.  The missed fact is the Congressional mandate, and that $5.5 billion item makes all the difference.

A Labor Problem

“During the past four years, the (postal) service lost $20 billion, including $8.5 billion in fiscal 2010. Over that period, mail volume dropped by 20 percent.”  Postal Service proposes cutting 120,000 jobs, pulling out of health-care plan (8/11/2011: Washington Post)

Even the venerable Washington Post published this article that neglected to mention the Congressional mandate.  Instead, it painted USPS financial woes based on unyielding labor unions.

The Bailout

“Americans deserve an efficient USPS that delivers for decades. But misguided action – or none at all – could saddle taxpayers with a multi-billion dollar bailout for the Postal Service. The clock is ticking…”   Saving the Postal Service (US Congress -Committee on Oversight and Government Reform)

Unfortunately, even Congress is providing us with misinformation on their Saving the Postal Service website.  Some in Congress have failed to admit that the Congressional mandate was misguided.  In fact, they’ve taken the position that reworking the mandate would be akin to a government bailout.

The analogy?  Let’s say that Congress writes a law that makes you pay 25 years of tax payments over the next 5 years.  Then, say you’re having trouble making those payments.  You go before Congress to ask for help, and they call this “saddling taxpayers with a bailout.”

Restructuring the Congressional $5.5 billion per year mandate is the responsible thing to do.

Calling the mandate a ‘bailout’ is simply a way to create excitement and get voters to look your way.  It’s doubly pernicious when Congress itself is a big source of the problem.

Yes, the USPS is confronting a bunch of challenges.  Revenue has dropped and so, expenses need to continue to drop as well.

But we as American citizens, or at least as USPS customers, need to understand the facts before we develop our opinions.  When we get our facts from biased sources,  we’ll probably arrive at biased solutions that don’t solve our problems, and are more likely to make things worse.

And here is where an analogy does exist between USPS problems and our US Government’s problems:

There are undoubtedly some tough conversations ahead as we American citizens write our country’s next chapters.  We need to become very good at understanding the big picture so that we aren’t easily misinformed, and misdirected, by those with a narrow interest.

Misinformation is a problem for the USPS simply because it could lead to a bad solution.  At a time when we Americans can’t afford any more of those.


New Postage Rates for USPS in 2012

Well, the USPS will raise postage rates in 2012.

For first class mail, the new USPS postcard rate is 32 cents  (up 3 cents) and the new USPS letter rate is 45 cents for 1st ounce (up 1 cent).

For discounted USPS bulk mail, new rates are also going up an average of 2% or so.

The new rates take effect January 22, 2012.

None of the increase should be a surprise, considering rising fuel costs and some very high (multi billion dollar) payments demanded by Congress.

The rate increases are capped by law — they cannot exceed the rate of inflation.   The last time prices went up was May 2009.

So what will the impact be on the postage costs for our postcard magnets at ?   Our rate for First Class Bulk mail will be 43 cents, Standard Third Class Bulk at 28 cents, and Non Profit Bulk at 20 cents.  (Note- our postcard magnets are not considered automation compatible mail.)

Who Invented the Postcard?

Well, its not easy to know precisely, but many historians ascribe the earliest picture postcard to a Brit — Theodore Hook  — who mailed the card to himself in 1840.

Hook, a prolific writer in his day (1788- 1841) was considered to be a man of letters, although his most enduring legacy may have been the invention of the postcard.

It’s a humorous irony that might not have been lost on Hook himself, who was also known for his tomfoolery and pranks (more about this below).

invented postcard

The first picture postcard, invented by Theodore Hook in 1840. (BBC)

The postcard he created, likely as a joke, included a caricature of post office workers around a gigantic ink well.  The reverse side included Hook’s address at Fulham in London, and a Penny Black stamp in the upper right corner.

Among Hook’s other achievements was the Berners Street Hoax, based on his bet that he could turn any house in London into the most talked-about address within a week’s time.

Hook busied himself by sending thousands of letters (not postcards) and invitations in the name of Mrs. Tottenham who resided at 54 Berners Street.

On November 27, Berners Street became packed with chimney sweeps, delivery carts, cake makers, doctors, lawyers and priests.  Several pianos and organs were delivered.  And many dignitaries arrived, including the Duke of York, the Governor of the Bank of England, the Lord Mayor of the City of London, and the Archbishop of Canterbury.  By day’s end, hundreds had made their way to 54 Berners Street, much of London became frozen in gridlock and Hook won his bet.

Alas, the postcard received its start from such notoriously enveloped beginnings.

But since we’re in the postcard business ourselves, we like to think of Mr. Hook’s invention as an example of man’s can-do, creative spirit.   Even today, the postcard fulfills its purpose: when you have something big to say, but don’t want to spend a lot to say it.

So, thank you Mr. Hook.

We make thousands of postcards everyday.  They’re made with magnets attached, and sent to a mailing list that our customers provide.  Please feel free to visit our postcard magnets website at .

What Is the Size of a Postcard in USA?

The size of a postcard is 4-1/4 inches high by 6 inches wide, maximum, to be eligible for First Class Mail postcard rate by the USPS.

what is the size of a postcardAny larger, and the USPS will call your mail a letter or flat, and charge a higher rate.

For the USPS, minimum postcard size is:  3-1/2″H  x 5″W.

Also, the USPS requires that postcards be a thickness of 0.007 inches, minimum; and 0.016 inches maximum.

Lastly, the mailing piece needs to be rectangular.

It makes sense to design your postcard to meet the USPS standards.  The First Class Mail postcard is given a very low rate by the USPS, and receives all the benefits of First Class mail, including mail forwarding and return if addressee not found.

A footnote — please note that our Postcard Magnets at are not mailed using US First Class postcard postage.  Instead we mail most using rates based on bulk mail.  For more info about direct mail campaigns with magnet mailers, check us out at  .  Or drop us a postcard!

USPS: Bankrupt and in the Red Zone?

The fact that the USPS needs to restructure financially is really no new news.

Post Office: bankrupt in 2011?But that the restructuring has now become a political football is unfortunate and is bad for all of us.  It not only adds emotions to what should be a rational process.  It also has polarized the discussion — if you are trying to restructure and save the US Postal Service, you ‘must be a progressive lune.’

The USPS has been restructuring for a while now.  It has downsized its workforce — down 35% over the last decade.  It has developed and implemented automation — the USPS now has the third largest computing infrastructure in the world.

And even though people are mailing less now, the USPS still survives on the revenue it collects from the postage it sells, rather than from Uncle Sam.

Those who wrote the US Constitution believed that the Post Office – and the Post Roads that connected them – would be a worthy resource for all Americans.  Although there were few national institutions created through the Constitution, the Post Office was one of them.

The Post Office helps ensure that we stay connected as a country.   Our first Information Highway, the USPS now delivers over 160 billion pieces of mail per year.   And even if your Internet crashes, your email gets hacked or your power grid goes down, you can still mail a letter across the continent for less than a dollar.

Today’s crisis that has been forced upon the USPS is man-made by politicians.   Congress legislated that the USPS would need to make accelerated payments to fund its healthcare commitments for its future retirees.   The annual payment — to be made to the US Treasury — was made into law in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006.   No other government agency, or private business, is compelled to make such an onerous expenditure.

In 2011, this payment amounts to $5.5 billion. And although the USPS can pay all its operating expenses, it doesn’t have enough to make the payment.   You can’t get blood from a stone.

And you shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

Most Americans, if provided the facts, would say the right thing to do is temporarily stop the mandated payments, or at least restructure them.  Keeping accelerated payments in place would be like asking for the USPS to operate with one hand tied behind its back.

Unfortunately, restructuring is portrayed by spin-meisters as a ‘bail out.’  (This is where the political football comes in…)

The irony is that there is actually a surplus of funds in the postal portion of the Civil Service Retirement System, the big pension fund that Federal employees pay into.  According to private sector auditors, there is between $50 and $75 billion in postal pension surplus.   So calling restructuring a ‘bail out’ is rather disingenuous.

Sure, there is  more that the Post Office needs to do to provide services that are relevant to 21st century Americans, work to have more autonomy on how it operates, and to keep lowering costs.

But to frame the problem in a way that pits Left versus Right is just plain wrong.

The USPS Flatrate Envelope Rate

[Updated 7/2014]  The USPS flatrate envelope rate for 2014 is $5.60 , providing Priority Mail service from and to any US postal address.  (The rate is just $5.05 if you buy postage through the USPS Click n Ship web service.)

Priority Mail is a USPS service that delivers most mail in up to 3 business days, and within 2 business days in most cases.  Any US postal address means any address with a US Zip Code.

This rate is good for mail using a special envelope from the United States Post Office, marked “Flat Rate Mailing Envelope.” USPS Flat Rate EnvelopeActually, the USPS offers six styles of special Flat Rate Envelopes to choose from — the padded envelope and legal envelope do cost extra to mail.

  • regular (paperboard) flat rate envelope (12-1/2″ x 9-1/2″)  [*]
  • padded flat rate envelope (12-1/2″ x 9-1/2″) [$5.95]
  • legal size flat rate envelope (15″ x 9-1/2″) [$5.75]
  • giftcard flat rate envelope (10″ x 7″)
  • small flat rate envelope (10″ x 6″)
  • window flat rate envelope (10″ x 5″)

Also included with this Priority Mail service is:  free pickup, free mail forwarding, if the recipient has an active forwarding address;  and free returned mail, if the mail can’t be delivered and you have provided a Return Address. Other optional services can be added to your Priority Mail package for an extra charge.  These services include: Delivery Confirmation, Signature Confirmation and Insurance.  Details are at .

Go International

*For $20.55, you can also use the regular 15″ x 9-1/2″ flatrate envelope for International Priority Mail from a US address to Canada or Mexico, for mailing up to 4 lbs .  For other countries, the rate is  $24.75.  Source: USPS Postal Store

Where to Find USPS Flatrate Envelopes

Envelopes are available from many US Post Office Locations, or you can order them online at the USPS Postal Store   .    Did we mention they’re available at no extra charge?

Go Priority Mail Flat Rate

The Flat Rate Envelope is a great way to ship anywhere in the US at one reasonable rate, and in a reasonable time.  Be sure to double check with your postmaster as rates and rules do change from time to time. And when you have a moment, check out how to promote your organization with our magnet mailers at .

US Postal state abbreviations

The US Postal Service suggests that state abbreviations should be used when addressing mail.

The USPS has developed a suggested 2-letter abbreviation for each of the 50 states and for the other territories in the USPS coverage area.

Here are the abbreviations:

  • GUAM:   GU
  • HAWAII:   HI
  • IDAHO:   ID
  • IOWA:   IA
  • KANSAS:   KS
  • MAINE:   ME
  • NEVADA:   NV
  • NEW YORK:   NY
  • OHIO:   OH
  • OREGON:   OR
  • PALAU:   PW
  • TEXAS:   TX
  • UTAH:   UT

Tips for USPS addressing:

Most US mail is handled automatically, and the address on your mailing piece will most likely be scanned and ‘read’ electronically.
To ensure your mail is easy to scan, the USPS offers these suggestions when addressing your mailpiece:
  • use capital letters
  • don’t use any puctuation
  • allow two spaces between state and ZIP Code
Note: when you use our Postcard Magnets direct mail campaigns, we generally ensure your mailing list is formatted based on US Postal Service standards, to maximize delivery service.  For more information, please visit our site at  .

The Cost of Postcard Postage


What Do You Get for 35 Cents?

[Update 05/31/2015]   The cost of US First Class postcard postage recently went up to $.35  .

There was, of course, the standard outrage about the “pain that we all feel”, how postcard writing has become unaffordable,  and my favorite, “I remember when you could mail a postcard for a penny.”

So, having been a fan of the postcard for quite some time, I thought it was a good opportunity for us to take a deep breath and look at the value of this wonderful little postage class.

For (just) 35 cents, we get:

[1]  delivery of our card from most any US address – to most any US address.
This could be down the street or 3000 miles across the country.

“Any US address,” by the way,  includes plenty of locations beyond the Fifty states which have been assigned a Zip Code.   The trip from New York (10010) to Guam (96910) , for example, is 7959 miles.

[2]  Delivery of most First Class mail is between 1- 5 working days.  And the typical item is delivered in 1- 3 days.  (OK, not sure if this includes Guam…)

Did We Mention Free Pick Up?

[3]  Pick-up of you postcard is pretty flexible.  You can drop it in your own mailbox, a blue collection box nearby, or bring it to one of over 36,000 post offices throughout the USA.  Who else offers free pickup?

[4] Does your postcard become undeliverable if you’re missing a character in the the address?  Probably not.  The post office accepts plenty of mail, with all sorts of hand writing, mis-spellings, missing Zip Codes, and even wrong addresses.

Let’s look a bit more at addresses:

[5]  When somebody changes addresses in the US, they can have their mail forwarded to any other US address (yes, for free) for up to one year.

So technically, the same postcard postage that gets the card mailed from NY to Guam, also gets the postcard forwarded to Miami, for instance.  That’s a 16,000 mile trip, by the way.

But wait, there’s more!

As if you haven’t already received a hundred times your postcard postage value, consider the Post Office’s free return service:

[6]  if your recipient just can’t be found, or their forwarding instructions are past their prime, is your postcard mail discarded? No.  First Class mail will be returned to you if a return address is provided, and often with an explanation for the return.  This benefit may seem bittersweet, yet there’s a lot of value in knowing if your card found its target.

So when we’re done whining about the rising US postage for postcards, think of how reasonable it really is for one of our favorite ways to communicate.

Oh, and if you remember postcard postage was a penny, you’re definitely revealing your age.  Postcard postage was 1 cent when the postcard rate was first established in 1898.  And it remained that way for over fifty years, until January 1952 when it was doubled.

Now that must have been an outrage.


OK,  with all that said, I need to mention that our Postcard Magnets are not mailed using US First Class postcard postage.  Instead we mail most using rates based on bulk mail.  For more info about direct mail campaigns with magnet mailers, check us out at  .  Or drop us a postcard!

Top 10 Reasons Why Postcards Make Great Mail

There are plenty of ways to send something through the mail.  There are envelopes, boxes, flats and yes, postcards.

So what’s so good about postcards?  They are:

  1. inexpensive to make
  2. Earth friendly  (no envelopes, boxes, packaging)
  3. easier to prepare because there’s no folding
  4. easy to design with simple formats
  5. sure way to show your message (no envelope to hide things)
  6. easier to prepare because there’s no stuffing
  7. cheapest way to mail First Class anywhere in the USA
  8. easier to prepare because there’s no licking
  9. converts into a billboard on a bulletin board or refrigerator
  10. fun; people like getting postcards
So how do you top that?  Check out our Postcard Magnets at .  They combine the impact of a postcard, and the staying value of a magnet, in one neat mailer.

What is the Size of a Postcard?

Postcard Size, Please…

If  you’d like the USPS First Class Postcard Rate for your postcard, you’ll need to keep the size of your card within the size range specified by the US Postal Service.

Use this template (please click it to see full size) to be within USPS regulations:

postcard size usps

USPS Postcard Template: the Min and the Max(Click Image for Full Size View)

Cards that are larger will be charged at Letter Rate or Large Envelope Rate.

If you’re going to use our Magnet Mailers , note that our items require the 2 oz letter rate (not the postcard rate).  This is because only postcards that are considered Machinable and Automated can earn the USPS First Class postcard rate.  The good news is that we can achieve big postage discounts by mailing in bulk.

Check out our magnet mailers at .