US post offices used to also be banks. Is it time to bring that back?

Popular Science

About a quarter of census tracts with a post office don’t have a community bank or credit union branch, suggesting postal banking could provide a financial lifeline to the millions of Americans without a bank account, according to our new research.

To reach this conclusion, we analyzed nationwide data on post office retail locations and bank and credit union branches, as well as other demographic details in those areas. We wanted to understand how prevalent U.S. Postal Service locations are in areas underserved by banks and credit unions.

Our research examined data from US census tracts, which are districts created by the U.S. Census Bureau to geographically represent a neighborhood. The country has 73,057 tracts that vary in square mileage yet have a standardized average population of about 4,000 residents.

We found that 69 percent of census tracts that have a post office lack a community bank—defined as having less than $10 billion in assets—while 75 percent don’t have a credit union branch. And 24 percent have neither, affecting nearly 21 million people.

The results varied widely from state to state. For example, in Arizona, 44 percent of tracts with a post office don’t have a credit union or community bank, while in Nebraska that figure is only 4 percent. And we found that members of minority groups tend to be located disproportionately in areas that lack banking but do have a post office.

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