Why Is The Social Security Number A Nine-Digit Number?

Ever wonder why your Social Security number (SSN) is a nine-digit number?
The 1935 Social Security Act authorized the creation of a record keeping system. The Act did not specifically mention Social Security numbers (SSN????????s) as that method. Members of the original Social Security Board had to determine what record keeping system was to be used, a fundamental and far reaching decision that has remained successful through today facilitated with many technological changes.
The decision on the type of record keeping system was a very complex issue requiring the absolute necessity to preserve individual records for each of the millions of workers first covered by the Social Security Act, yet versatile enough to add additional workers over time. The familiar SSN design using a three-two-four digit configuration was only one of a number of options available to early program planners.
The reason for having a Social Security number (SSN) was its use in recording wages reported for workers covered by Social Security. To encourage cooperation from all involved, simplicity of the process was important.
A quickly discarded idea was to record wages by name, and to identify like-named individuals by their dates of birth, mothers???????? maiden names, and other information. A phonebook survey revealing many people with the same name showed that this was not practical, leaving some variation of a numeric or alpha-numeric system to identify individuals to be chosen.
For reasons no longer known, in November 1935 the Social Security Board tentatively decided to use an eight-character alpha-numeric system. This idea was also discarded, in part because several other federal agencies had already rejected an alpha-numeric system in favor of a nine digit system and in part because few companies had tabulating machines that could work with such a system in this largely manual, pre-computer processing period.
Once the Board realized that only an all-numeric identifier would be feasible, decisions about how many digits were needed and what they should represent remained. For example, one recommendation was to include the person????????s birth year or age in the number as a way to more easily separate files of older workers of retirement age from those of younger workers. This idea was discarded to prevent employers from immediately knowing a workers age and, related to this, to prevent false ages from being given when people obtained their number. Proof of age was not then required to obtain a Social Security card. At the time, there were no compelling reasons to validate the information being provided by the applicants or to verify their identities.
Finally, it was agreed to use a nine-digit number in the three-two-four arrangement, with the first three digits having a geographical significance representing the state where the Social Security number (SSN) was issued, and later the state based on zip code of the mailing address, with the rest of the number splitting it into sections for easier handling. Since 2011, numbers have been randomly issued to help protect the integrity of individual SSN????????s. (Visit these links for more info about the geographical significance and randomization: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/history/ssn/geocard.html/ and http://ssa.gov/employer/randomizationfaqs.html.)
Using the nine-digit format still used today, the first Social Security numbers were issued in November 1936.
This information is from several areas of the Social Security website history section, http://www.socialsecurity.gov/history. Especially useful was a June 1985 article, Fifty Years of Operations in the Social Security Administration, by Michael A. Cronin, Office of Policy, Social Security Administration.


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