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Postal Service Worker Job Description, Career as a Postal Service Worker, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training High school plus on-the-job training

Salary Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook Poor

Definition and Nature of the Work

More than six hundred thousand postal workers are employed in the United States. They sort, distribute, and deliver mail; sell stamps and money orders; and figure postal rates for boxes and large envelopes. They also collect postage-due fees and obtain signed receipts for registered, certified, and insured mail. Most are postal clerks, who work indoors handling the bulk of the mail, or letter carriers, who work outdoors delivering mail to the correct address.

In large cities postal clerks may have specialized tasks. Distribution clerks unload the mail from trucks and sort it into rough categories—parcel post, magazines, letters, and foreign mail. They have to memorize distribution "schemes" according to geographic areas. Window clerks weigh mail, sell stamps and other products, answer questions from the public, and listen to complaints. In small towns postal clerks are responsible for all of these duties.

Letter carriers may have residential, business, parcel post, or rural routes, delivering mail on foot or in carts, small trucks, or cars. They arrive at the post office early in the morning to sort the mail for their routes.

Supervisors, who oversee the work of postal clerks and letter carriers, are usually employed at post offices with large staffs. Postmasters have complete responsibility for the work at the post offices they manage.

Education and Training Requirements

All postal workers must be citizens of the United States, have high school diplomas or the equivalent, and be at least eighteen years of age. They are tested for speed and accuracy in checking names and numbers and for their ability to memorize mail distribution procedures. Letter carriers and postal clerks must also be able to carry thirty-five-pound shoulder bags and lift seventy-pound mailbags. Many jobs require driver's licenses and road tests. All postal workers must pass drug screening.

Most jobs in the postal service fall into one of two categories. Postal clerks work indoors handling the mail. Letter carriers work outdoors delivering the mail. (© LWA-Dann Tardif/Corbis.)

Postal workers get on-the-job training. Clerks and letter carriers usually train as substitutes until vacancies occur in their offices or departments. Beginning clerks learn postal regulations and practice sorting for speed and accuracy. In large towns and cities they are taught how to run sorting machines. Letter carriers usually work inside the post office for a while to learn postal procedures.

Getting the Job

Job seekers can get applications and testing schedules at local post offices. Appointments to postal jobs are made from the three highest scores on each test. Candidates who are not appointed may be selected at a later time.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Large post offices that employ supervisors offer the most opportunities for promotion. The usual path for advancement is from top-level clerk to supervisor to postmaster. Supervisors' and postmasters' jobs require experience, education, and examinations.

Postal workers with seniority may receive preferred assignments, such as day shifts. Whenever preferred assignments open up, requests are made by written bid. The jobs go to the qualified bidders with the longest service.

Employment in the postal service is expected to decline somewhat through 2014. Although thousands of jobs open each year as workers retire or leave the service, each job gets many applicants and competition is strong. Automation is eliminating many jobs as well.

Working Conditions

Many post office buildings are modern, comfortable places to work, and a major effort is being made to replace or modernize the others. Postal employees often work in groups or teams and have fairly secure jobs because the ups and downs of business cycles do not affect them. However, many jobs require strenuous lifting and moving of mail. Letter carriers need good health and physical stamina to work outdoors in all kinds of weather. Postal clerks sometimes face periods of stress when large loads of mail need to be dispatched quickly. Many postal workers belong to labor unions.

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries and benefits vary with workers' experience and the location of the post office. In 2004 the median salary of mail carriers was $44,450 per year, with the most experienced carriers earning more than $54,240 per year. The median salary for postal clerks was $40,950 per year, with the top ten percent making more than $50,510 per year. The median annual salary for sorters, processors, and machine operators was $39,430.

Where to Go for More Information

U.S. Postal Service
475 L'Enfant Plaza SW
Washington, DC 20206-0001
(800) 275-8777

American Postal Workers Union
1300 L St. NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 842-4200

National Association of Letter Carriers
100 Indiana Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20001-2144
(202) 393-4695

National Rural Letter Carriers Association
1630 Duke St.
Alexandria, VA 22314-3465
(703) 684-5545

Postal workers receive time and a half for overtime and premium pay on holidays. Benefits include pension plans and health and life insurance. Paid vacations range from thirteen days for the first three years to twenty-six days after fifteen years of service. Paid sick leave can be accumulated over several years.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw and Public Service