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How the USPS Deals With Your Awful Penmanship

Neither rain nor sleet nor ... bad handwriting
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 3, 2011 4:15 PM CDT
How the USPS Deals With Your Awful Penmanship
Penmanship counts when mailing letters.   (Shutterstock)

The United States Postal Service has no shortage of public headaches—but the Wall Street Journal takes a look at a quirky problem that's a little more under-the-radar: your bad handwriting. The USPS employs 1,900 clerks who show up for work at one of two "Remote Encoding Centers" and then try to make sense of horrifically unreadable addresses. Their ranks used to be much larger: 32,000 clerks at some 55 RECs. Thanks to technological advances, computers can decode most chicken-scratch. Scanned images of the unreadable ones end up in Salt Lake City or Wichita.

The desired deciphering rate? 1,100 letters per hour. Clerks pored over 714,085,866 first-class letters last year that the computers couldn't read; 27% of the addresses stumped the workers, too. Those get plucked out of the mail stream and handled by one of the last "peek-and-poke clerks." The "nixies" (those that even that clerk can't decipher) get looked at one final time. All those that still can't be delivered then go to Atlanta's Mail Recovery Center, where letters that appear to possibly contain cash or documents are opened. The rest end their lives in the shredder. (More USPS stories.)

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