I never know what I'll find when I'm surfing the Social Security Administration's web page. It's a wealth of information, though the treasure trove of rules and statistics can be overwhelming if you don't know where to look.
The other day I stumbled on this tidbit: Social Security numbers are no longer tied to geography. Who knew?
A nine-digit Social Security number has three parts. The first set of three digits is called the “area number” and originally designated the geographical region in which the person was living at the time he or she obtained a number.
Generally, numbers were assigned beginning in the Northeast and moving westward. So people on the East Coast have the lowest numbers and those on the West Coast have the highest numbers.
The remaining six digits in the number — including the second set of two digits called the “group number” and the final set of four digits called the “serial number” — are more or less randomly assigned. They were organized to facilitate the early manual bookkeeping operations associated with the creation of Social Security in the 1930s.
Now all new Social Security numbers, including the initial “area numbers,” are assigned randomly in an effort to prevent fraud and to extend the available pool of nine-digit Social Security numbers in every state.
Randomization also introduced previously unassigned area numbers including “000,” “666” and “900-999”.
The geographic ties were severed for cards issued after June 25, 2011. The new assignment process only applies to those receiving a new number for the first time. It does not affect current number holders.
And despite persistent urban myths, the middle “group” number does not refer to race or other groups of people. It refers to groups of numbers. And under the new system, you'll never see a Social Security number with “00” in the middle group section or “0000” as a final serial number.
Social Security numbers are not reassigned after a person's death. Even though the agency has issued more than 453 million Social Security numbers since November 1936, and continues to issue about 5.5 million new numbers each year, the current nine-digit number system is expected to provide numbers for several generations into the future with no further changes in the numbering system.
Now, if we could just figure out a way to make sure there's enough money to pay all the benefits of all those new number holders. Eventually, Congress will have to tackle that important challenge. In the meantime, you now have some great trivia to toss around at your next cocktail party.