Social Security is always in the news for one reason or another. But there’s one question about the government program that I’ve never heard answered: How are Social Security numbers assigned? Is it random? Are they recycled when people die? I went to the official site for the Social Security and found a few answers.
Here’s how it breaks down. A Social Security number is divided into three parts. The first 3-digit section is called an “area number” and it isn’t random. If your number was assigned to you before 1972, then “the area number reflects the state where you applied for your number.” However, if you applied for your number after 1972, the numbers were generated differently, using ZIP codes. The number likely has some relation to the ZIP code in your mailing address.
Moving on to the middle two digits. These suckers, known as the “group number,” are apparently random. “It has no special geographic significance but merely serve to break the number into conveniently sized blocks for orderly issuance.” The last four digits are called the serial number. It’s just a “straight numerical sequence of digits from 0001-9999 within the group.”
So, that explains the how numbers are assigned, but what happens to numbers when people die? Do they get recycled? Surprisingly, they are not. The Social Security Agency does not re-assign numbers after a person passes away. The official site reports, “the current numbering system will provide us with enough new numbers for several generations into the future with no changes in the numbering system.”
And, make no mistake, Social Security has been around a while. The first numbers were issued back in November of 1936, and since then, “about 442 million Social Security numbers have been assigned.” Contrary to popular belief, the first number assigned wasn’t the lowest number. It was 055-09-0001, and it was assigned to John D. Sweeney, Jr., of New Rochelle, New York. As for the lowest number, 001-01-0001, it was given to Ms. Grace D. Owen of Concord, New Hampshire. You can read more about Mr. Sweeney and Ms. Owen here.
I didn’t get my Social Security number until I was in elementary school. These days, it’s recommended that mom and dad get their kids a number as soon as they sign the birth certificate. Just one more thing for new parents to remember…
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