One of my math professors at University once told my class he could tell us where we were all born, just by hearing their first three digits of their SSN. And then he did. It was pretty cool.
He then told us a story about how he had done the same thing years earlier and when he told one young lady she was from Florida, she argued. "No," she said, "I'm from New York."
"No," my professor argued back, "You're from Florida," and she argued back, insisting she was born and raised in New York.
Turns out she was from Florida because she was adopted and her parent's never told her.
Whether this story is true or not I don't know, but here's what I know is true: those seemingly random numbers mean something.
In 1935, following Social Security Act, the US government had to "devise a method for uniquely identifying the earnings records for the millions of persons covered by the new law." Because "Social Security and the benefit amount were to be determined from a person’s earnings over many years, a method was needed for maintaining permanent and accurate earnings records for each person."
The Social Security number (SSN) consists of nine digits divided into three parts, with each part usually separated by a hyphen:
xxx - xx - xxxx
Area number - Group number - Serial number
Until 1972, the urea number indicated the location (State, territory, or possession) of the Social Security office that issued the number. When the Social Security numbering system was developed, one or more area numbers were allocated to each State based on the anticipated number of issuances in the State. Because an individual could apply for an SSN at any Social Security office, the area code did not necessarily indicate where the person lived or worked. . . The area code now indicates the person’s State of residence as shown on the SSN application.
There are several exceptions to these rules. Before 1964, area numbers 700-728 were assigned by the Rail- road Retirement Board to workers covered by the Rail- road Retirement Act.’ Area number 586 is divided among American Samoa, Guam, the Philippines, and Americans employed abroad by American employers and, from 1975 to 1979, it was also used for Indochinese refugees. Area number 580 is assigned to persons applying in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Virtually all railroad workers had been assigned SSN’s by 1964; therefore there no longer was a need to have a separate numbering system.
The group number has no special geographic or data significance. It is used to break the numbers into blocks of convenient size for SSA’s processing operations and for controlling the assignments to the States.
The last four digits, the serial number, represent a numerical series from 0001 to 9999 within each group. The order in which the SSN’s are issued is as follows: For each area number, the group number follows an odd and even sequence starting with odd numbers 01 to 09, even numbers 10 to 98, even numbers 02 to 08, and finally odd numbers 11 to 99. The serial number begins with 0001 and continues in sequence,2 except every fifth
For all practical purposes, the serial numbers are random. The use of numbers from the 2000 and 7000 series for every fifth issuance per- mits scientific sampling of workers and beneficiaries, For example, see Warren Buckler and Creston Smith, “The Continuous Work History Sample: Description and Contents,” Economic and Demographic Statistics: Selected Papers Given at the 1980 Annual Meeting of the American Statistical Association in Houston, Texas, November 1980.
SSN is given a serial number from the series 2001-2999 and 7001-7999. The last three serial numbers issued are 9998, 9999, and 7999. Serial number 0000 is never used. Each State goes through all of its area numbers with group number 01 and serial numbers 0001-9999 and 7999 before using group number 03. Thus, 989,901 SSN’s can be issued for each area number.
The g-digit number provides the capacity for assigning nearly 1 billion SSN’s. To date, approximately 277 million numbers have been issued, leaving about 75 percent still available. Only Florida has used up its original allotment. Several other States (Arizona, California, and Mississippi), and Puerto Rico are expected to exhaust their original allotment within the next 2 decades. Additional area numbers have been designated for these locations. About 5-7 million new numbers are issued each year, but even at this rate there will be sufficient numbers available for several generations to come (via).
I hope none of you just found out you were adopted. If so, blame my math professor. He started it.
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