Mail slowdown

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy proposed new standards for first-class mail, which would slow down how long it takes for you to receive a letter. The Washington Post made an interactive (paywall) to see how the plan would change delivery times from your ZIP code.

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Map of people moving during pandemic

It was only a matter of time before someone showed dots moving across a map to show migration during the pandemic. Again, using USPS change of address data, Yan Wu and Luis Melgar for the Wall Street Journal (paywalled) showed where people moved in the country.

As shown through other views, a lot of the movement wasn’t out of the ordinary, but in some areas — mainly San Francisco and New York — the pandemic appeared to motivate people a little more to move.

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Where people moved during the pandemic

In another look at migration through the lens of USPS change of address data, Bloomberg CityLab shows where people moved during the pandemic, focusing on movement in and out of metro areas. With the exception of San Francisco and New York, most areas didn’t see much movement distance-wise:

Even in the biggest metro areas, most people didn’t go very far. In the country’s 50 most populous cities, 84% of the moves were to somewhere within the perimeter of the central metro area, down just slightly from pre-pandemic levels. Many of the most local moves were likely related to the economic downturn: A February Pew Research Center survey of those who moved during the pandemic found that the most common reason people cited was financial distress including job loss.

See also similar conclusions by The New York Times and Financial Times.

While there wasn’t the mass exodus that some imagined, the pandemic did seem to speed up some trends. So as we wait for the 2020 Census count, which comes out out this afternoon, it’ll be interesting to see if the rate of change continues in the coming years.

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Tracking the mail

With mail-in ballots looking to be more common than ever this year, NYT’s The Upshot is tracking the mail:

The data here, covering more than 28 million pieces of first-class letters tracked by SnailWorks, shows how on-time delivery declined noticeably in July after the arrival of Louis DeJoy, the Trump-aligned postmaster general, and the start of policies to trim transportation costs. That drop in national performance was more abrupt than during the chaotic period when the coronavirus pandemic began spreading across the country.

“We had a wave of our members, hundreds and hundreds of locals, telling us there were service problems a month ago,” said Jim Sauber, the chief of staff for the National Association for Letter Carriers.


I wonder what the distributions for each time frame looks like. Even during non-pandemic times, it looks like a quarter of the mail is counted as late. And it’s at least a little bit comforting that we’re talking in units of days late rather than weeks or months.

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Time for last-minute mail voting

The New York Times provides a state-by-state chart timeline for voting by mail:

But 16 states allow voters to apply for mail ballots so close to Election Day that their votes could be at risk of being too late if they are sent and returned through the Postal Service. Officials in these places recommend applying for and sending in ballots early, or dropping them off at local election offices or in secure drop boxes if available.

In Minnesota, voters can request a ballot the day before the election, too late to be mailed to them on time. But if voters request their ballots early and postmark them by Election Day, they should arrive in enough time to be counted. Montana has the same deadline for requesting a ballot but does not accept those returned after the election.

The takeaway is that you should vote early to make sure it counts. I’m just going to do it right when the ballot arrives.

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Vote-by-mail volume compared against years past

The volume of mail-in ballots will likely be higher than usual this year, but relative to the Postal Service’s usual volumes from years past, the bump doesn’t seem unfathomable. The chart above, which shows average weekly volume over the years, from Quoctrung Bui and Margot Sanger-Katz for NYT’s The Upshot, shows the scale.

Of course, if certain administrations continue to hamper USPS operations, that’s a different story.

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Reduced mail sorting capacity

The United States Postal Service is losing mail sorting machines — as an election during a pandemic gets closer. The Washington Post reports on what they know so far, including the map above on reduced sorting capacity.

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