Thank a Mail Carrier Day: Why the Post Office Is a Critical Institution for the African-American Workforce

Postal workers BELatina
Photo Credit Postal workers protest USPS cuts in Chicago, 2011. Charles Miller / Flickr

Today, February 4th, is Thank a Mail Carrier Day, and it’s an opportunity to show respect, appreciation, acknowledgment, and general kindness towards the mail workers in our country. It’s a day to actually celebrate how important mail carriers are in our everyday lives and businesses — without them, we wouldn’t receive our mail or our packages, or be able to communicate expeditiously with others or conduct business in an effective way with people clear across the country and beyond. While this day (and mail carriers) are important to all of us, it means more to some — to postal workers and their families, especially African Americans workers. Thank a Mail Carrier Day coincides with the first week of Black History Month, a context that makes it all the more powerful in the grand scheme of American history. 

In a personal and powerful piece for USA Today, Danny Glover (yes, that Danny Glover, the talented actor, director, and activist) shared why the US Postal Service is such a critical agency for this country and an important source of employment for African American families in particular. His parents, he explains, were postal workers, whose lives and livelihood were greatly impacted by their work, their professional community, and their ability to unionize and earn sustainable wages. 

But that agency is at risk of being destroyed, or at the very least drastically limited, due to cuts proposed by the current administration.

According to a recent plan to reform the federal government, the Trump administration plans to sell off the Postal Service to for-profit corporations in an effort to privatize parts of the service. 

According to the restructuring proposal, the suggested changes to the Postal Service include “prepare it for future conversion from a Government agency into a privately-held corporation,” and to allow the postal service to “follow private sector practices in compensation and labor relations,” which would further reduce operational costs. Essentially the plan would reduce delivery days, limit deliveries to more centralized locations (aka, not directly to your door), and would close multiple post offices across the country. It would also increase prices on most package and mail deliveries in an effort to make the agency more profitable. “A privatized Postal Service would have a substantially lower cost structure, be able to adapt to changing customer needs and make business decisions free from political interference, and have access to private capital markets to fund operational improvements without burdening taxpayers,” the report says.

Sure, it might not sound like these reforms are a huge deal. But here’s the thing: these changes would be devastating for customers and employees of all races — but especially African Americans, argues Glover. 

For decades the Postal Service has been a reliable and accessible path to the middle class, he explains. It is one of the professions in which black workers could organize for equality, and it remains a critical source of jobs for African Americans, with black people making up 27.2 percent of the postal workforce, according to the latest data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. In case you’re wondering, that’s way more than their share of the US population, which is 13.4 percent according to the United States Census Bureau. 

It’s also important to note that the US Postal Service pays wages above other occupations where blacks make up more than 25 percent of employees, according to the Institute for Policy Studies. In 2018 the average postal worker earned over $50,000 a year, which is higher than occupations such as health aids (average wages of $25,330 a year) and barbershop employees (earning $33,220 a year on average). 

So what does this all mean? It depends who you ask, but if you ask African American postal workers, it means they lose their bargaining rights to maintain decent (or at a minimum, average) wages. It also means that for African Americans and Latinos who rely heavily on postal banking, their steady access to financial services will be in danger, which could have lasting repercussions. While the government frames these reforms as necessary to meet the needs of the American people, the changes would cause irreparable harm to an important segment of those Americans — the African-American workforce.

As Glover says, “we must protect the Postal Service — and support new innovation to meet 21st century needs. We owe it to my parents and the millions of others who built this vital public infrastructure.”