The United States Postal Service runs like a well-oiled machine in most cases, delivering billions of mailpieces every year, the vast majority of them without incident.
Recently, though, if it feels like mail – especially First-Class mail – has slowed in its service, you aren’t alone. This is because it actually has, for a variety of reasons.
Here are 10 reasons why USPS is so slow and why your mail might be taking so long to reach you or your loved ones.
Why Is USPS So Slow?
1. USPS Changed Their Delivery Timeframes
The most glaring and recent reason for slower mail is that the U.S. Postmaster General announced the organization would be slowing First-Class mail service.
Louis DeJoy, a former trucking and logistics executive, unveiled a 10-year plan that would include the slowing of First-Class mail from 1-3 days to 1-5 days.
This plan was conceived in an effort to make the USPS more financially robust after suffering major losses to the tune of $3 billion in one quarter alone.
DeJoy also defended the plan against critics, saying that 60 percent of Americans would see no difference in the speed of their mail delivery.
However, that does still leave 40 percent – nearly half – of the country with considerably longer wait times for something as simple as a letter.
To put it into clearer perspective, a postal service expert spoke to Vox.com and said the delay “means mail delivery will be slower than in the 1970s.”
In my own experience, mail that used to take one day now takes two or three, as everything is rerouted to a distribution center 100 miles south before coming back up north to my small city.
While that began to occur long before this plan got put into action, I do sympathize with USPS customers who will begin to experience a similar delay. It’s maddening.
However, DeJoy emphasized that his plan would ultimately save USPS $160 billion.
To see how the delayed delivery affects you, you can enter your zip code into this Washington Post interactive map.
It’s not just your imagination – the mail really is slower moving forward.
2. You Live In a Rural Area
Critics of the DeJoy plan cited how slower mail could be disastrous for rural communities, where USPS is nothing short of a lifeline with the wider world.
Unfortunately, geography being what it is, rural areas are already more difficult to serve – just look at how neither FedEx nor UPS are mandated to deliver to our most rural areas.
(Although this might change soon, as FedEx recently dropped their SmartPost service – where USPS handled the “last leg” of deliveries, often in rural areas.)
With these communities already more cut off and difficult to reach by virtue of their geography, delays in mail for them could be even more pronounced.
3. You Live Outside the Continental U.S.
The geography issue throws itself into even starker relief when it comes to states and territories served by USPS but not part of the continental 48 states.
That includes Hawaii, Alaska, and U.S. territories like Puerto Rico and Guam. If you live in one of these areas, the slower mail service will likely make itself apparent.
This is because part of Postmaster General DeJoy’s plan is to cut back on airmail and rely more heavily on truck transport.
With fewer planes carrying USPS mail, areas only reachable by air (versus trucks) will be waiting longer.
4. The Sender Chose a Slower Service
If you are waiting for something specific, it could be that it’s taking longer than expected because the sender chose a slower service.
Maybe they said they were shipping it Priority or Priority Express but got confused by the services and just did First-Class.
Or they might have shipped a package Parcel Select, the very slowest (and also the very cheapest) package shipping option.
5. Trucks Have Been Limited
One of U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s first moves in his 10-year financial sustainability plan for USPS was to cut back on “late and extra truck trips.”
USPS has enjoyed some flexibility in this area, but with DeJoy’s limitations, less flexibility in sending trucks out later means some people might be waiting an extra day for delivery.
6. There Has Been a Weather Disaster
As the planet gradually warms, major weather incidences are becoming more common.
And whether it’s treacherously icy roads or a major hurricane or tornado, the weather can have a marked effect on how quickly the mail gets delivered.
I have found, though, that if you have USPS Tracking on your package, if the weather has caused a delay, the website will indicate if your delivery is going to be affected.
7. There Was a Major Traffic Incident
Much like the weather, major traffic incidents – most commonly in the form of accidents – can be sudden and very inconvenient to mail delivery.
If you were expecting a package and it didn’t arrive, keep your ear to the ground for any reports of traffic disturbances on the highways.
8. It’s the Holiday Season
Now more than ever, Americans are shopping online. And online shopping during the holidays means a huge influx of parcels.
USPS can only hire so many extra seasonal workers, so it’s not uncommon for customers to experience delays starting from Black Friday all the way through the New Year.
And for some, there is the additional impact of weather.
Be kind and patient with your postal carriers – they are truly doing the best they can during these types of stressful seasons.
9. It’s a Sunday
If you weren’t aware, Sundays are USPS’s only non-operational business days.
Even if you are expecting something Priority Express, unless the sender paid the extra $12.50, it won’t be delivered on a Sunday.
So while you might think it’s USPS being “slow,” it’s actually just them not being open for business on Sundays unless someone pays a little extra.
10. It’s an Election Year
As recent elections have shown, more people enjoy the convenience of mail-in ballots than ever before.
If that trend continues (and the federal government allows), and we see mail-in ballots become a more ubiquitous part of the voting landscape, the higher volume of mail could cause delays.