How Are Social Security Numbers Assigned?

There are a few benchmarks that show you have become an adult.

Your friends have started getting married and having babies. You’ve Googled the phrase, “what is a 401K?” And your back just starts to hurt for no reason.

I am sure you can come up with a dozen other examples. One thing that I clearly remember signaling I was becoming an adult was when I had my social security number memorized.

As a teenager I used to carry a sticky note in my wallet that had my social security number on it. That was for the few times I had to know that number on a job application or a drivers test or something.

That probably wasn’t the smartest idea but back then I was too dumb to know of the threat of identity theft and plus, I didn’t really know why a social security number was so important.

Somewhere throughout the years, my use of the social security number became so frequent that I no longer needed that sticky note. I had memorized that nine digit number.

I remember being impressed that I could memorize such a long number and important number. Congratulations to me.

I guess that was my brain’s way of saying, “Welcome to adulthood!”

Even though I have the number memorized I know little more about it than when I was carrying that sticky note in my wallet. Where did that number come from? Was it my dad’s lucky number or did my mom just think it had a “nice ring to it?” Did we pick that number or did that number pick me?

Let’s find out in today’s Wonder Why Wednesday…

How Are Social Security Numbers Assigned?

Answer: Randomly. But that wasn’t always the case.

According to the Social Security Administration, social security numbers are now issued via a process called “randomization.” This is a fairly recent change, dating back to just June 25, 2011. So if you are reading this, you are either a great reader for your age or you had your social security number assigned through the previous process.

The nine-digit SSN dates back to 1936, when it was created to track workers’ earning throughout their life. The SSN begins with a three-digit area number, followed by the two-digit group number, and ending with the four-digit serial number.

Beginning in 1972, the area number was dictated by the state you were born in. However, as the population grew, the SSN assignment process couldn’t keep up with the number of SSNs needed for people from each state.

Thus the need for randomization. Today, there is no geographical significance of the first three digits.

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