The Fascinating World of Social Security Numbers (SSNs) - Exploring Facts and Figures

Mason Riverwind

Updated Thursday, February 29, 2024 at 12:43 PM CDT

The Fascinating World of Social Security Numbers (SSNs) - Exploring Facts and Figures

The Evolution and Structure of SSNs

Did you know that the Social Security Number (SSN) is nine digits long, providing a staggering 1,000,000,000 possible values? Originally, the first three digits represented an area code, but this practice was abandoned in 2011. Today, SSNs follow a specific format, X**-X*-X**X, and there are rules in place to ensure uniqueness and prevent certain combinations. For instance, an SSN cannot start with 9, no group should consist of all 0's, and it should not begin with the infamous 666.

The Scale and Issuance of SSNs

Over 450 million SSNs have been issued to date, which accounts for just over half of the potential numbers. However, it's important to note that the number of SSNs issued does not directly correspond to the number of people born in the US. Not everyone has an SSN, and some individuals may even have multiple SSNs. On average, approximately 5.5 million SSNs are issued each year. At this rate, it would take around 90 years to exhaust the remaining available SSNs.

The Future of SSNs and Potential Changes

As of March 2023, there were approximately 358 million SSNs remaining, expected to last about 70 more years. However, what happens when we approach the limit? It is uncertain whether the US government would recycle old numbers once the billionth card is issued. The transition to a more secure system of identification is desirable as the remaining SSNs are depleted.

One proposed solution is to make the new SSN 12-digits long and assign a fixed number as the first three digits. This change would allow future databases to use 12 numbers, while existing databases can simply ignore the first three digits. Implementing this change could help avoid complications and disruptions in databases, especially when the SSN issuance approaches 999-99-9999. It would require significant IT work to prepare computer systems for this transition.

The Role of the Social Security Administration (SSA)

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is responsible for issuing SSNs and ensuring their integrity. According to the SSA website, 453.7 million different SSNs have been issued. It is worth noting that once a person passes away, their SSN is not reused or reassigned to another individual. This practice helps maintain the uniqueness and integrity of the SSN system.

The world of Social Security Numbers (SSNs) is a fascinating one, with its vast potential values, issuance rates, and future challenges. As we approach the exhaustion of available SSNs, it becomes increasingly important to explore alternative identification systems. The proposed transition to a 12-digit SSN with fixed first three digits could provide a seamless solution, ensuring the security and continuity of databases in the years to come.

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